On Purposeby Nick Laird
“Laird’s ear for ‘smallish lexical mercies’ yields superb lines.”Stephen Burt, New York Times Book ReviewOn Purpose examines the often brutal arena of human relations. Informed by both wit and a melancholic undercurrent, the book thoughtfully provokes concepts of happiness and sadness, of warring and reparation. The volume concludes with an affecting sequence about a marriage, inspired by that most influential of military treatises, The Art of War.
Compact, careful, thoughtful and even wary, the second book of verse from Laird (who grew up in Northern Ireland and lives in London) gives the U.S. a fine representative of what younger mainstream British poets are doing right now. Like his peers, Laird writes shapely stanzas organized by description and sometimes by half-rhymes; he owes much to Glyn Maxwell or Paul Muldoon, though less so compared to his debut To a Fault. Here the tone is sadder, more civil, more often weighted by historical subjects. Also a novelist, Laird does best with historical personae: medieval actors in a morality play, for example, or soldiers who liberate a concentration camp, describing mass murder's aftermath with uncanny reserve. Even at his most personal, Laird feels the shadow of current events: he concludes with a set of short poems called "The Art of War," in which the blisses and troubles of two adults remind him all too much of the public world. In "Terrain," the "snow" on TV reminds him of the cloud of electronic data through which the government (like a malevolent boyfriend) may watch us as we sleep: "you'd been watching a property show and had dozed,/ and now the screen was frantic, driving home through snow, alone." (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
While it's usually poets who try their hands at writing novels, Laird (Utterly Monkey) is an example of a successful novelist who tries his hand at poetry. Although this is Laird's second collection of verse, the formal characteristics of this volume have as much in common with prose as with poetry. Laird's pieces often tell the story of an object, which he then backlights with narrative, spinning a tale about each. Reading these poems is a bit of Proust's madeleine: the object acts as pretext for a story that in some way relates to events in the narrator's past. Rather than focus on the word or the line, Laird emphasizes the sentence as the primary linguistic unit, which gives his pieces an overall coherence, sometimes at the expense of immediacy. However, this collection holds together well, and unlike many books of poetry, it gets stronger as it goes. Recommended as a supplement to the poetry collections of larger academic and public libraries.
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author
Nick Laird is the author of two previous collections of poetry, On Purpose and To a Fault. His honors include the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Born in Ireland, he lives in New York and teaches at Princeton University.
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