7. The Long Way Home - Poetry of Steve Nash (July '14)

THE LONG WAY HOME -

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE POETRY OF STEVE NASH



 

Among the highlights of our recent artSBridge Bands, Bards et Branwell event in Sowerby Bridge was the appearance of performance poet Steve Nash.  By turns lyrical, though-provoking, and explosively funny, Steve is a born performer whose poetry has been described by publisher Stairwell Books as traversing the comic and the tragic, the everyday and the bizarre, the mundane and the aesthetic, the painfully personal and the universal public realms of our modern existences - sometimes within one, quick, turn-on-the-heel of a single stanza, and who was earlier this year the winner of the national Saboteur award for Best Spoken Word Performer.  He is also a Sowerby Bridge resident, and very much an important part of the growing literary “scene” of the local area - all the more exciting, then, that he agreed to perform last weekend. Steve’s appearance came with great expectations - and we were not disappointed! 



 

A BIG BANG

 

When the knot of knuckled blood vessels detonated, imagines Nash in his hard-hitting and at times grotesque Eletriptan, in which the poet considers what might happen were he to possess a firearm,

a big bang, a new universe painted in my skull,

and then
the pressure
the blood,
the heart trying to engulf the brain.

The poem bounces the same words around in different orders, each jumpy stanza a snippet of the misery of severe focal migraines, suggesting possibilities of suicide, and its power is in its implications, in the way the poet teases us with devastating glimpses of what might have been, before pulling back and reconsidering. 

 

In See Ya, Lycidas, the world of Classical literature is given ostensibly light treatment, the hip title opening proceedings with a smile, yet here also Nash delivers introspective depth via deceptive deftness and wry humour, contemplating the concept of creative writing: 

Cheek-tongued emotions

though clever and contrary are

ghosts that fall and fade into trees.

 

Modestly, the poem includes apparent references to its author’s own attempts at writing:

Pale imitations

in the damp foxtrot of winter

sink and seep like iron-heavy blood

into this, once promising now soiled,

page.

A cocaine-white polar bear fur

sullied

by the hook of a green-eyed

poacher.

Yet it is without doubt the author of this review who reads “green-eyed” at the powers of Steve Nash, a poet to whom the word “promising” scarcely does justice, and who was rightly commended by Amy Audebert for engaging with emotional mindsets both past and present, layered seamlessly and honestly together.

 

The poetry of Steve Nash is indeed often seamless and multi-layered - and at times shot through with a vivid honesty, whether in the case of the beautiful and touching Twins, or when addressing his relationship with his military, man-of-few-words father.  Perhaps it is the semi-rootlessness of his childhood, his life-long habit of travelling, the need of the creative mind to communicate and expand in a stiff-upper-lipped world, that gives Steve Nash’s poetry that fiery edge - tat sense of throwing caution to the winds and experimenting boldly and brazenly with whichever ideas come along, and the urgent need for passion and expression:

 

Show me a book with scars,

a book with a broken bodice

shaking its stories loose

because someone had to have them

 

LOVE AND FEAR

 

Steve Nash was born in Ripon, and now lives in Sowerby Bridge; the intervening years were spent growing up on various military bases around England and Germany.  Although settling in Chesterfield in 1993 (his profile page on the Stairwell Books website pins inverted commas around the word), he has been described as “a stateless pirate” who up until his early twenties “was mostly on the road with various punk outfits, before arriving in York – the place he would probably call most like home”.  A friendly, gently spoken and bright-tempered man, Steve works in education, edits literary magazines and even plays and sings in bands, while producing poetry at times in keeping with his generally cheery persona, and wildly to its opposite.   At the event on June the 29th, Steve’s reading began humorously, and included his somewhat legendary Hutch, recalling a childhood rabbit in exaggerated terms … including the rabbit’s desire to gobble human flesh! 

Anyone who has seen Steve Nash read will testify to the comedic nature of his performances - his style mixing self-deprecation with a punchy repertoire of stories and funny voices, but it is the poetry its self that I would like to focus on here and now - and undoubtedly, notwithstanding that many of his poems are perfectly suited to live delivery, much of Nash’s poetry is suited more to page than stage, and the distorted stanzas of poems such as Lines are unnerving to read. And yet, despite this unorthodox structure there is something very neat about the poem, which on re-readings seems to flow into an eerily multi-faceted manner:

 

"Line" he says                   "Line" they wait                "Line" she hears
coughs and murmurs          eager eyes                       flies and spiders
traverse the room              rolling                                purposefully
like tumbleweeds               like loose hubs                  buzz buzz buzz
no line comes                     no line comes                    no line comes

 

In Cuts, the vagaries of contemporary politics and the state of the nation are scrutinized with Ginsberg-esque surrealism, shunting the recognizably topical alongside expansive metaphor:

Investors could be facing gold-plated bathroom fixtures
tailored to allow double the fees that are swallowed up
in more pesky voting eschewing immediacy.

 

The poem’s hurried style lends the impression of an auction room or trading room floor, with the issues of the day summarised and churned out like tabloid headlines.  From Dossiers as thorny as gothic script, recalling images of the Iraq war and media manipulation, to The square mile vision of apocalypse, an almost nihilistic picture of a society reeling to disaster is painted, with each three-lined verse standing alone like tombstones inscribed with similar but unique tributes.  Recalling perhaps the hasty loss of ethics and the greed which led to the financial crash, Nash explains There is no appetite begging for delay when it comes to crossing over/ the short run, placing us back at the onset of an impending nightmare, before lurching into a frustrating, frustrated, cash-strapped present: Complex cost structures failed to restrain cunning devotion / from the charter, clearest but unkindest, recorded and pressed / allowed to protest.

The brilliant way in which he presages negative announcements with a flicker of hope, the clever rhyme, and the deeply bathetic final line, its triple-worded faint praise a kind of valediction for the idea of Democracy, are stunning examples of why Nash’s work has been credited by One and the Other journal as an important addition to poetry in the English language.  This is poetry as knifingly incisive as Shelley’s angriest and most political verse, yet underpinned by Northern matter-of-factness, by irony, and by a kind of bleak, sad humour. 

The poem veers into mocking despair, seeming to depict the current government as a kind of dumbed-down, soulless call-centre, and reveals yet more of the writer’s truly unique skill in the juxtaposition of words, his attention to line endings a startling reminder of how important it is to insert words exactly in the right order and the right places:

Build a coalition. Hurry it along, lightly dismissing the miserably poor
returns from fledglings spending hours on the telephone

 

The rich returns of reading Steve Nash’s poetry are infinite - not only does the experience guarantee readers entertainment, thought-provoking questions and spiky humour, but his work will cause you to discover energising new ways to contemplate the world, and as a poet I have found myself taken aback at the radical techniques with which he writes, making Steve Nash’s poems somehow as innovative and stylistically instructive as they are enjoyable to the eye or ear.  The poetry is surprising and can catch you off guard - among fairly lighthearted musings comes a reflection on

…a sad history of doubts and 

fears

 a poltergeist requiem that

insists

love and fear are not so far

apart.

 

Elsewhere, we are granted entry into the tormented recess of a mind in the midst of illness and personal crisis.  Nash spent spells in hospital following a car crash (when the vehicle he was in was hit by a speeding driver) and temporary blindness. Meantime Hospital, one of the strongest pieces in 2013’s collection Taking The Long Way Home, recounts such a period:

snarling like a warped branch

into the tepid ward,

all roots and pale limbs

 

BLANK PAGES

 

Performing widely at many different events - including supporting Simon Armitage for the Stanza Stones anthology performances - Steve Nash has been published in many prestigious journals, and is set to contribute to future artSBridge poetry and spoken word festivities.  It is to be hoped that the future will also feature a great many further collections from this talented wordsmith, who has chosen our valley as his base for at least the present time, and whose well-travelled eye discerns with verve and elegance the poignant beauty of the Northern landscape:

Snow

 

Today the streets are blank pages
as though the storyteller misplaced
both the inkwell and the tale.

The path leading down from the house
has faded, fallen from its bones
below a threshold of deafness.

The silver, winter chains of light
sketch vague outlines of what hides,
unable to speak, beneath.

The day shrinks to something small
and sinister. You begin to despair through 
the unreadable fog at your feet.

And then you see the first December
footprints glittering like a narrative in the snow.

 

Having come close to the brink courtesy of the crash which almost cost his life, Steve Nash writes each poem as if it were his last, his refreshing lust for life resplendently evident in his celebrations of nature or his hilarious jokey poems; his traveller's survival instinct and sense of life’s preciousness coming over gently but irrepressibly in more painful, darker or expressive poems like Snow or his moving tributes to friends both present and past.  His future is a wealth of blank pages -  and I greatly hope he continues to fill them with his sparkling, striking, superbly crafted poetry.

 

July 2014.

 

 

 

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