Book Review

Nil Nil by Don Paterson

Photo on 27-06-2013 at 18.08 #4

That’s right, more poetry. I’ve gone poetry mad. I’ve got at least two more poetry books on my shelf and I’m considering rushing out after writing this searching for more. I think I finally get it. After all this time, I think the necessary thing in my head has clicked. And that essential point is YOU DON’T HAVE TO UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING. If a meaning is obtuse, either sit down and think it through, or move on, come back to it. Poetry is not meant to be read like prose, rushed, towards an ending. One must contemplate, one must think, one must read rather than watch. You can’t make a cinema adaptation of a poem. Right? Someone contradict me if I’m wrong.*

I really enjoyed Don Paterson’s Nil Nil, his first collection, published in 1993. It contains that honesty and sense of reality and place that I look for in literature. There are strong senses of emotion and event and time and feeling. There are jokes, there are confusing images, there are serious discussions about cultural history and the destructive power of modernity… The title poem, in particular, is worth a read if you like your lit urban decay-ey.

A highlight for me was ‘Bedfellows’, a short piece about noticing a stain on the wall of a rented bedroom where the previous occupant’s sleeping head had rubbed against it. Simple, short, concise, evocative. Lots of the poems are like this, and these are the ones I enjoyed the most. Except for ‘The Alexandrian Library’, coincidentally BY FAR the longest poem in the book, which is a surreal, dreamlike journey towards lost, ancient manuscripts discovered whilst browsing through a musty, secondhand bookshop.

There are poems about sex, about drinking, about politics, about death. A little bit of everything, but a  at least one strong poem on every repeated topic. I liked it. But I am, secretly and slowly, becoming quite a fan of poetry…


*James Franco’s Howl is evidence on my side.

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