Originally featured in the print edition of The Irish Post on Wednesday February 13th, 2013.
Faber & Faber, 80pp, £12.99. ISBN: 9780571288182
Go Giants, Tyrone poet Nick Laird’s third collection of poems, is undoubtedly his most accomplished, fully realized and ambitious collection to date. Two years shy of 40, Laird- who now divides his time between London and New York- has crafted a collection which is marked by juxtapositions and ambiguities that the poet establishes to emphasize the intensity of one thing’s relationship to the other. Indeed, in an untitled poem, playfully featured on the book’s dustjacket and which could easily be interpreted as Laird’s Ars Poetica, Laird declares poetry “…a juncture of two kinds of real, the act caught in the act, as the fingertips pressed hard against their mirrored selves establish an ambiguous exactitude…”. In many ways, Go Giants feels like a welcome companion to Don Paterson’s seminal, 1993 debut collection, Nil Nil . What ties both collections together is how they both convincingly rejuvenate Rimbaud’s dictum, “Je suis un autre” (“I am another”)- Rimbaud’s idea of the constructed self- and make it feel rhetorically fresh and urgent for contemporary readers.
While the collection’s title primarily echoes the chant commonly uttered by fans of NFL team the New York Giants, it equally echoes, in the context of Laird’s extraction, The Giant’s Causeway. Perhaps more pertinently, however, it suggests the two giants of Irish poetry, whose presence is very much at the heart of Laird’s work: Derry poet Seamus Heaney and Armagh poet Paul Muldoon. Like New Jersey- based Muldoon, Laird’s recent move to the U.S. has opened up his access to American demotic, as well as Irish- English and British slang. Nowhere is this more evident than the collection’s title poem, a playful poem that echoes the “choose life” mantra of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. A collision course of registers and culturally distinct clichés that assonate seamlessly with one another, referencing everything from sporting clichés (“Go Patriots…Go Saints…Go short…Go long”), socially acceptable clichés that contain violent imagery (“Go under the knife…Go for the throat…Go against”) to instruction (“Go first…Go and get help”), Laird’s title poem blurs cultural, social, functional distinctions, reflecting the globalized society in which we now live. It easily is one of Laird’s most memorable and accomplished poems.
Concluding with ‘Progress’, the long poem which borrows part of its title and the titles of its sections from Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, Laird treats memories of his hometown of Cookstown much like Muldoon would The Moy. Through effortless, unlaboured lines, Laird’s long poem echoes Heaney’s ouevre in confirming the inescapability of memory (“The problem with home is home follows”), which, like the poet’s curiosity attempts, unsuccessfully, to reject regionalism (“What if you felt nothing more walking down/ the streets of Cookstown that you ever felt/walking in New York or Rome or London…”).
As ambitious and impressive as ‘Progress’ may be, Laird’s most successful poems here are found in tighter, more modest spaces: the most memorable poems are companionable, smaller scale and almost anecdotal. The collection’s opening poem ‘Epithalamium’, a light- hearted love poem with, if nothing else, an unforgettable opening line (“You’re beeswax and I’m birdshit.”) turns in the finishing lines, which hold true the ideas central to Go Giants (“If I’m the rising incantation / you’re the charm, or I am, or you are”), betraying a fiercely intelligent and persuasive rhetoric bound in Laird’s collection. This is all wonderfully built upon by ‘Condolence’, an eight line elegy composed in couplets in which the speaker, a young boy who “half follows” his mother’s laboured (“with such slow deliberation”) communication of writing letters “to write out in good/phrases to wives and the parents of husbands”. In a celebration of the now- almost obsolete act of writing letters, Laird suggests the power of the mother’s hard won phrases, “the fire consumed by its ashes”. It is only fitting that it is a poet of Laird’s enviable skill and boundless imagination who reminds us of the rewards that are reaped by language that is both hard won and powerfully executed.