Combining edgy vernacular and blunt reportage with a delicate lyricism, Nick Laird’s poems delight, surprise and unnerve. Often concerned with the lingering sectarian violence of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, his writing complicates the personal and political, exposing the fault lines in all relationships at which opposites converge, blur, and are redefined. Here are angry men in barbershops, where “the closeness casual once in the trenches” nevertheless surfaces in knowing silences; families who “speak in code of what we love”; and the much mythologised Irish landscape, wryly re-envisioned as the “mild and violent land of the giant / leylandii.” Yet Laird is not content to cling to the themes of his illustrious Irish forebears. The poems collected here also brim with pop culture, meditations on Darwinian theory and Renaissance art, hymns to domesticity and a beloved pet pug, and modern city life’s vicissitudes. Tripping through assorted gear changes, the poetry is equally stylistically diverse, recalling Seamus Heaney in its atmospheric descriptiveness and Louis MacNeice in its clear-eyed melancholy, but also Wallace Stevens in its reflective, ecological dimensions, and Simon Armitage in its rhetorical verve. The distinctiveness of Laird’s writing, then, resides in an uncanny ability to assume whatever voice the poem seems to demand; as Fran Brearton notes of the title poem of his third collection Go Giants (2013), Laird often “sounds like everyone and like no one else”.

Born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1975, Nick Laird studied at Cambridge University, and worked as a lawyer before becoming a full-time writer. His first book of poems, To a Fault (2005), won several awards, and was hailed by Colm Toibin as “the most auspicious debut in Irish poetry since Paul Muldoon”. “It’s a bit like looking through the big window / on the top deck of the number 47”, confesses the speaker in ‘Poetry’, “I’m watching you, and her, and all of them, / but through my own reflection.” This suggestion – that the world only reveals its true nature in moments of careful contemplation – is central to Laird’s aesthetic, from the heightened state brought on by insomnia in ‘The Evening Forecast for the Region’, to a couple’s emptied flat in ‘Done’, transformed into “the scene of a murder”. In a second volume, On Purpose (2007), this keen perceptiveness meets with a greater openness, in poems that implicate the reader in piercing studies of the everyday. ‘Holiday of a Lifetime’, included in the online selection from this Archive recording, is an especially moving account of our clumsy desire for clarity amid life’s confusions, in which a lost jigsaw piece surfaces ‘blue, as an eye, / one of yours, / though what you will do // for the rest of your years / is to try, / repeatedly, to identify / that blue as sea, / maybe, or sky.’

The poems from a third book, Go Giants, skilfully engage with many of Laird’s abiding themes, but also push in new, playful directions, from ‘Epithalamium’s jokey paean to marriage and the idea that opposites attract, to the near religious wonder of ‘The Effects’, a scientific meditation on the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos. Whatever the subject, though, throughout this recording Laird’s quietly insistent, lilting tones bring his words vividly and rhythmically to life, evincing what The Times has described as his “trilling sensitivity to the wider implications, to the passion and the poignancy that are embedded in even the most ordinary event”.


Nick Laird’s recording was made on 20th February 2013 at The Soundhouse, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Nick Laird

Books by Nick Laird



Forward Prize for Best First Collection for To a Fault

Prize website

Somerset Maugham Award for On Purpose

Prize website

Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for On Purpose

Prize website

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