Exactly My Own Length
By Olivia McCannon (Carcanet, 2011)
Winner of the 2012 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize
Olivia McCannon’s first collection explores life on the edge of possibility: in one moment the familiar is blown open, we plunge into the unknown. A chance meeting seals a lifetime; a girl leaps from a window, away from safety – ‘she wanted to see what can happen’. From families improvising a living space in Cairo’s City of the Dead, to a veteran of the Normandy landings coming home to the peaceful reparation of ‘glueing, welding, soldering’, life is luminous, and resolutely seized. The closing sequence follows the last months of the poet’s mother’s life. A journey into grief and loss, it pays tribute to the courage of refusing false comfort, the strength that in the end enables us to live ‘between the lines / of tombs’.
Fenton Aldeburgh Prize, Chair of judges, Robert Seatter: ‘In a very close field, what we valued in Olivia McCannon’s book was the judged authenticity of her voice. Her collection has a subtle craftsmanship, and her clean and precise language rewards several re-readings revealing new layers of connection and meaning. Exactly My Own Length is surprising without ever being showy, feelingful without overplaying its sentiment, and universal without being predictable’.
Old Man Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac
Translated by Olivia McCannon, with an introduction by Graham Robb (Penguin Classics, 2011)
Monsieur Goriot is one of a disparate group of lodgers at Madame Vauquer’s dingy Parisian boarding house. At first his wealth inspires respect, but as his circumstances are mysteriously reduced he becomes shunned by those around him, and soon his only remaining visitors are his two beautifully dressed daughters. Goriot’s fate is intertwined with two other fellow boarders: the young social climber Eugene Rastignac, who sees a way to gain the acceptance and wealth he craves, and the enigmatic figure of Vautrin, who is hiding darker secrets than anyone. Weaving a compelling and panoramic story of love, money, self-sacrifice, corruption, greed and ambition, Old Man Goriot is Balzac’s acknowledged masterpiece. A key novel in his Comédie Humaine series, it is a vividly realized portrait of bourgeois Parisian society in the years following the French Revolution.
MPT Centres of Cataclysm, edited by Sasha Dugdale, David Constantine, Helen Constantine (Bloodaxe 2016). Co-translation (with Pandora) of Nge Nge ‘A man who is easily fooled and a woman who barely speaks’.
Washing Lines: A collection of poems, edited by Janie Hextall and Barbara McNaught (Lautus, 2011). Includes ‘Ironing’