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Andy Jackson: a note on Human Looking

Bodies are emphatic, yet ambiguous. So it’s only fitting that the title of this collection of bodily poems is similarly forceful, but with a double-meaning. There are two ways of saying ‘human looking’; one with a hyphen, the other with a comma. In other words, these poems are about how we judge others to be human yet not-quite-human. They’re also about the humanness of the gaze, the vulnerability of the person doing the looking.

Human Looking was written as the creative component of a PhD, but don’t for a moment think they’re academic or abstract. Since puberty, I’ve lived with a visible disability, and have had to carry around the weight of other people’s looking. Wrestling with this is Sisyphean; simply putting it down isn’t an option. In a sense, this is my fifth poetry collection about deformity and the fault-lines of human community, though I’ve never written poems quite like this.

These poems – some biographical, some autobiographical, some both – are stareable bodies, and they seek to stare back. In the process of writing them, I often experienced a kind of metaphorical far-sightedness – the closer I got to someone, the more blurred their life became. So, while I always preferred affinity or solidarity to appropriation or detachment, I also tried to make my own limitations transparent. Human looking is always partial, unstable and incomplete. So is this book.

It tackles various mythologies and histories, the online world, sculpture and painting, photography, contemporary medical technology, financial precarity, estrangement and solidarity, violence and tenderness. Plenty of these poems emerge out of everyday life, too, where the interruptions are more subtle – illness, uncanny experiences of place, social encounters, ageing and love. These are disabled poems, so these are human poems.

— Andy Jackson

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