Nonsense Paperback – 3 Oct 2013
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'Christopher Reid's Nonsense was, as usual with this exceptionally gifted poet, a reliable source of pleasure: grave, deft, subtle, oblique, surprising, touching. No other poetry this year came anywhere near it.' --Craig Raine, Observer Books of the Year
'Christopher Reid shows in Nonsense that he is the modern master of the long narrative poem at once wryly amusing and moving.' --William Boyd, Guardian Books of the Year
'As good as his A Scattering and as funny as The Song of Lunch. There is now no English poet whose work I look forward to as much as Reid's: he has a voice purely his own, and a mastery of prosody. Whether he is making you laugh or smile or shudder, what he writes is the real thing.' --Claire Tomalin, Guardian Books of the Year --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Nonsense is the wonderful new collection from award-winning poet Christopher Reid.See all Product description
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"Not so much sleep as a buffeting,
a duffing-over, by brutal dreams.
Obscurely vengeful, they pounce on him
and carry out a questionless interrogation.
One after another, they arrive at his bed,
pop some idiot plotline in his head
and command him to follow it.
Which he does, like the accused in a trial by ordeal,
or contestant in a frenzied TV challenge show.
He awakes exhausted, sweaty, confused.
If not found guilty, he has at least been humiliated
and there is no appeal."
The next poem, 'The Suit of Mistress Quickly', is the interior monologue of an actress rehearsing for an amateur production of "Henry IV Part II", anxious about speaking her lines ('Shakespeare's job-lot malapropisms') and horrified to find that the director expects her to play Mistress Quickly like Margaret Rutherford ('The swine!'). Again Reid mixes humour and sadness to create a vivid picture of his middle-aged protagonist.
My favourite section in "Nonsense" is 'Airs and Ditties of No Man's Land', which was published previously as a pamphlet by Rack Press. The work begins with two skeletons, formerly a sergeant and a captain, hanging on a wire in no man's land:
"we both stand
unburied and unresurrected.
So, to pass the time, we let the wind
rummage in the hollows of our skulls
for memories and scraps of song and wisps of rhyme,
The airs and ditties which follow are brilliant, sung by the sergeant and captain in turn they capture the gallows humour and utter horror of the trenches. The piece was originally written to be performed to music composed by Colin Matthews for the 2011 Proms - I would love to hear it.
The final section of "Nonsense", 'A Salute to Moonlight', consists of a selection of poems linked by their progression from dawn to day to night to dawn again. Again Reid's humour comes through but also his insight and carefully chosen language, its art revealed gradually through the conversational tone. These four works together make "Nonsense" an absolute treat.
The rest of the book is also very enjoyable - another sequence about an actress having an off day and then finding her form, a third sequence of short poems narrated by two skeletons who've died in the first world war, and a final set of more miscellaneous short poems which (as the jacket points out) start in the early morning and move through to the late evening.
If you have enjoyed Reid's other work, it is a safe bet that you will also enjoy everything here.
In the course of all this there are meditations on loss and grief, meaning, religion and love - but all put in with such a light touch. Then there are the spookily vivid descriptions of everyday events - flying for instance: `Seats aren't wide, but they settle down/without territorial elbow-play/or shoulder assertion'; or taking a shower in a hotel `...plenty of pounding hot water/ longer than he needs to,/ then two towels/ to get extravagantly dry.'
This might make the poems sound trivial, but they are anything but - they are unpretentious, poignant, incredibly vivid and deeply humane.
* If bereavement is of interest to you, read Ruth Stone's What Love Comes To. She endured fifty years' widowhood with fortitude, fidelity and - yes - humour. How else could you do it?
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