Nick Laird's To a Fault is volume of vibrant but uneasy poems which seems keen to assert its author's place in the pantheon of Northern Irish poets.
There's a burst of energy unleashed as it takes its run at Parnassus. The volume carries, but does not fear, the burden of influence, but this is coupled with a maturity of intellect and a seriousness of vision.
You can spot, for example, the Paul Muldoon in the final lines of "The Mouth of the Sea", or note that "Appendix", which slips in with its "pluperfect aura /of a worm hung in tequila" after a blank page at the end, recalls a Michael Longley "coda".
You can be rightly unsettled by the Tom Paulin-esque use of words such as "thole" and "fornenst" in "The Remaindermen", an acute poem about national identity, home, possession and dispossession.
The name-games in "Imperial" (which uses as metaphor the archaeologist Austen Henry Layard's excavations of Nineveh) or "The Layered" (about members of the Laird family) feel as if they are brilliantly doing something that has been done before. But this is not to suggest that the book as a whole has not found itself, or taken full ownership of its preoccupations.
To a Fault is a collection that houses wounds, victims, wars; which is full of dust and debris, grit and chaff. It is suffused with potential violence and the history of violence which infiltrate, like this debris, the domestic sphere. Perhaps there is more than a gesture here towards the philosophical writings of Walter Benjamin.
The first, and one of the most easily likeable poems, "Cuttings", manages to combine linguistic dexterity and intelligence with an emotional centre as the speaker's "angry and beautiful father" attends the barber's, "his head full of lather and unusual thoughts".
In "The Signpost", we find a man who "held a bomb the same weight as he'd been when born". In "Oswiciem", "a steel prosthetic foot, a fist of auburn hair" are "set in a locker at the terminals/of all the major capitals, alongside stolen goods/ and photographs in envelopes, and bombs".
To a Fault is not a book for speedy reading. It's not a book for lyric complacency, either. At first it seems it is going to overwhelm the reader with its voice, that words have taken over from experience but don't always fully evoke that experience. It can, in places, be irritatingly macho.
But at a time when poetry seems to have become too wrapped up in the frou-frou of its marketing campaigns and needs instead to ask if it is doing enough to engage with a difficult world, Nick Laird's book is doing more, in its range and ambition, than any first collection I can think of in at least the last ten years.
Deryn Rees-Jones's 'Quiver' is published by SerenReuse content