Stephen Sexton’s poems pulse with nervy melancholy and twang with a dark, earnest wit. His writing is rich and poised, full of beauty and sharply-observed irony, and his fascination with anxiety is majestic. In Oils, his debut pamphlet, he inhabits characters from paintings, cartoons, history and everyday life, including an atheist, a teacher and a possible princess. This is an extraordinary collection which balances breathtaking romance with profound self-doubt, revealing the glory in the grotesque.
‘The Choice for this quarter is Stephen Sexton’s Oils: a series of finely crafted and vibrant poems, playing out central concerns of loss and dislocation. An astute observer, Sexton’s points of reference are various – paintings, cartoons and Greek mythology. […] The authenticity of Sexton’s voice earns the reader’s trust and attention.’ — the Selectors’ Comment in the PBS Bulletin
‘These are poems to make you ponder – to read and re-read, savouring the language and reflecting on the mysterious subjects at hand as you go. […] Such is the scope of the poems included – from the haunting ‘The Death of Horses’, to the more satirical ‘Credit History’, and the innocence of ‘Subimago’ – that Oils quickly hooks you with its ambition. It brings wit, melancholy and irony to the table, blurring the lines of what we think and know and dream to great effect.’— Claire Savage, reviewing for Culture Northern Ireland
‘If it wasn’t for Frances Leviston’s Disinformation last month, it would’ve been a long time since I’d read poems that rewarded both a careful and painstaking unspooling of thought and a quick skim over a brilliant surface. Sexton here uses an apparently straightforward (nay, breezy) narrative register to cover for a deep investigation into the nature of life, death and our ability to perceive their intermingling. […] Oils has a winning sincerity, perhaps ‘faithfulness’ is a better word, that even in the face of the often cruel and arbitrary worlds of its poems, there is usually something wonderful and strange.’ – Dave Coates on Dave Poems
‘I am always convinced there is something interesting going on, some depth of thought, some originality of observation and expression. […] The language is slightly elevated, and the emotional punch hits dead centre.’ — Stephen Payne, reviewing for Sabotage Reviews
‘Oils is a tremendously academic, intellectual, crafted work, but I don’t believe it requires you to be an intellectual, academic craftsman to take it apart and put it back together. It is not, in other words, poetry that speaks only to other capital P Poets. It exists in uncertainty, in unanswered questions, in the commonplace passivity of life, as much as it exists in communion with old myths and old masters.’ — Dan Micklethwaite on SmallTimeBooks
‘A restless shadow ripples beneath the surface of Oils by Stephen Sexton, his sixteen-poem debut pamphlet published by the Emma Press, and will stalk you long after the book has been placed back on its shelf. […] the poetic hand of Sexton, sure and swift, sweeps us foraging eagerly from one poetic gem to the next.’ – Jade Cuttle for Cadaverine Magazine