What’s this? We haven’t reached the main body of the collection yet, not even at the contents page, we still have roman numerals for page numbers … and what do we find on page vii? A poem! How controversial.
It is an unusual structural choice to preface a collection with an entire poem. Sheers’ choice to have this poem separated from the rest of the work suggests that this is perhaps a key or a map with which to navigate through the rest of the collection, similar perhaps to how some editions of Lord of the Rings have a map of Middle Earth before you even get to the text of the novel.
It is also an interesting, almost paradoxical, decision to begin things with a poem called ‘last act’. This is perhaps our first clue that Sheers wants his reader to feel uncomfortable and show us that he will be breaking conventions with this collection.
We might perhaps link this with his TS Eliot Four Quartets reference on the next page. The most famous line from Eliot’s Four Quartets sequence is the line ‘in my beginning is my end’. It seems as though Sheers may be making a subtle reference to this by literally putting an ‘end’ of sorts at the beginning of his book. This is the first of many references to the work of TS Eliot that you can find scattered around the collection if you look close enough.
So, what is the poem telling us? Unlike the rest of the collection, the poetic ‘you’ can be assumed to be the reader. The lines ‘Don’t be surprised it has taken so long to show you these’ may be indicative of the time gap between Skirrid Hill and his previous collection. If we take this to be the case then ‘the actor, bowing as himself / for the first time all night’ could be taken as an apology of sorts for his dissatisfaction with his debut collection, The Blue Book, which received a lot of criticism. This may well be a proclamation that this is Sheers’ first genuine collection of poetry – the last one was just a warm-up.
Last Act also serves as a...