Nigh-No-Place, By Jen Hadfield

Reviewed,Stephen Knight
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:00

The work of Ted Hughes has only recently begun to influence poets in significant numbers, most notably Alice Oswald and now Jen Hadfield, whose Nigh-No-Place is in the running for this year's Forward Prize. Not that Hadfield's restless eco-poetics sound especially like Hughes. There is a backpacker feel to the volume's twin locations of Canada and Shetland, yet the writing is rooted in both places because, for all the comically unflattering self-portraits, the poet usually faces outwards, on to landscapes dazzling after rain or blurred by mist.

There are as many creatures as people in Nigh-No-Place, and poems are more like brilliant snapshots than whole, poised works. The writing is all the better for this manifestation of energy, though it means the poems are best experienced one after another rather than singly.

Onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhyme and a smattering of Shetland dialect supply Hadfield's world with a rackety music – claws on tarmac, a rock-chip hitting a windscreen, a waterproof crackling "like a roasting rack of lamb" – which she orchestrates with a variety of forms including prose poems, incantations, spells and a prayer. She has, too, a fine sense of how to use white space, at one point evoking a silence into which a bird calls.

When much contemporary poetry has about it a whiff of the coterie, Hadfield's refreshing voice carries all the way from the top of Scotland to blow some of the dust off British verse.

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