thirty-nine: Jen Hadfield, Nigh-No-Place

I hadn’t heard of Jen Hadfield until recently (thanks to Tom this is yogic for the heads up); Nigh-No-Place is her second collection, and she’s making a name for herself, with Kathleen Jamie calling her ‘a zestful poet of the road, a beat poet of the upper latitudes’. Nigh-No-Place is certainly on the road, encompassing travels across Canada and the Shetlands – more ‘north’, more sense of space and place that I’ve enjoyed so much in other collections of poetry this year.

I have to say, though, that I was slightly disappointed; I felt that as a collection it was quite uneven in tone – I certainly found the opening few poems quite weak, not really working for me at all. It wasn’t until into the second section, ‘Nigh-No-Place’, that it felt like the poetry was finding its feet. Maybe it’s just a question of my finding her style a bit too vernacular and lumpy for my taste? This review from the Guardian sums it up well from me with the comment about lists not amounting to more than their parts in some places, but repetition working well in others:

In keeping with her taste for liturgy and litany, Hadfield’s poems are often built around repeating words and structures. Some of the anaphoric lists cannot amount to more than their parts, but elsewhere refrains work to great effect, as with ‘In the Same Way’, where the crying of the cat at the back door echoes the crying of the wind, in rounds of calling and singing, until the two become indistinguishable and we wonder whether the speaker has acquired the wind as a pet, or simply realised her cat is no pet at all.

Favourites were ‘This Is Us Saint’s Day’, ‘Prenatal Polar Bear’, ‘Towhee’, ‘Paternoster’, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen This Is a Horse as Magritte Might Paint Him’, ‘witless’, ‘Our Lady of Isbister’, ‘The Wren’, ‘Teatros’, ‘Burra Grace’, ‘Nearly a Sonnet’, ‘Bridge End, October’, ‘Cabbage’ and the poem mentioned above, ‘In the same way’:

In the same way she cries at the kitchen door
and I slip her and she runs into circular squalls of rain

and she cries at the kitchen door
with snailtracks of rain in her muscular fur
so I open up and she runs in singing

and she cries at the kitchen door
so I open up and she crouches
then sprints into the wind

and the wind cries at the kitchen door
so I open up and call and call

and she doesn’t run in but the wind does,
with rain, a squall of claws –

in the same dogged, idiomatic way
I open up, send Goodnight across the brae,

and the wind canters in
and she with a wild carol

and all the night hail
melted gleaming in her furs

Nigh-no-place, Jen Hadfield (Bloodaxe, 2008)


1 Response to “thirty-nine: Jen Hadfield, <i>Nigh-No-Place</i>”

  1. 1 Amedu Al-Garbba 7 December, 2009 at 1:36 pm


    Absolutely. Nigh-no-place! Nigh no place that could be remotely named poetry. If this is poetry, nay, an award winning one, I’ll surely not be damned, for there must be such lush feathering of poetic nests elsewhere (unseen yet by me-me-I)to o’shadow the wilted plumage that has been presented afore. surely, surely there must be much better poetry hidden from our view but surely nigh-no-place like here.

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