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Cutting the Quick

Cutting the Quick

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After teaching in England for many years, Ian House taught in Eastern Europe. He lives in Reading. This is his first collection.

"Ian House has created a world alive with luminous, existential clarity – playful, often sinister and always a little surreal. As much painter as philosopher, House illuminates his poems with an enormous visual delicacy, particularly strong in the poems set in Russia and Eastern Europe. I gabbled to strangers in the dark / as silence piled like snow. His intense sensibility creates a world stilled, flashing with colour, where meaning resides in the strange material beauty of the objective. Throughout the collection, in fragments of flight, sharp moments of solitary colour and sensuous detail, the formless takes on intricate form."
Jane Draycott

"Ian House’s exacting and perceptive sensibility inveigles the reader into the tensions of a formative mid-century Englishness, the bleak underside of Eastern Europe and the lives of painters, vividly conceived through their textures and pigments."
Anne-Marie Fyfe

How I Dealt with Uncle George’s Glass Eye

was to skid from teastain islands on the tablecloth
to canyons in the plaster overhead
or troll it in the gutter with my ally taw
or drop the pale blue yolk and creamy white
into a frying pan. Our laughter
made the birthday candles genuflect.
His mouth and left eye shone.
The right was as indifferent as the stars.


That afternoon the river blazed.
The sun clubbed us as we drifted
words and smiles until
we stopped to watch a man
pull big-finned black-and-yellow fish
out of a tank, flop them on a table,
bash the head with a stone three
or four times, until the thrashing stopped,
and gut them swiftly, bloodily.
I liked the way he worked: mechanical.
He’d turn to grab another by the tail
and dab his forehead with a small blue cloth.

Masha looked at me big-eyed.
‘So be a vegetarian,’ I said.
We dragged on. Our lips were dry.