Pictured Above: Robert Nye
Published: 3 May, 2012
by JOHN HORDER
How do I do justice to An Almost Dancer, the lyric poet Robert Nye’s latest collection?
We first met for a walk in Kew Gardens, after I had written to him having admired his poem “Kingfisher”
in The London Magazine.
Fifty-five years later, we communicate mostly by snail mail and phone.
Robert lives the life of a recluse in County Cork. He has been married twice and fathered six children.
He has written many books, including a bestselling version of Beowulf for young people; and the bawdy novel Falstaff, which won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize.
He went on to edit an edition of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Verse; The Faber Book of Sonnets (sadly out of print), and Some Poems by Thomas Chatterton.
His writings are ghost-ridden.
That is their strength and their weakness.
His four-line poem “The Ghost of Chatterton” recalls the suicide of the young poet portrayed in Henry Wallis’s shocking pre-Raphaelite painting “The Death of Chatterton” which is in Tate Britain:
I’ve never seen the ghost of Chatterton
But sometimes I have smelt it, sharp as day:
A scent half smegma and half innocence
Like the stale-almond sweetness of the may.
Two jewels that stand out are in memory of two close friends, poet Martin Seymour-Smith, in “Valentinus”; and Giles Gordon in “A Postcard from Crete”.
Giles is best-known as Robert’s literary agent, and that of Prince Charles and Adrian Mole.
He was much-loved.
Three more poems that will stand the test of time are “Runes” about Robert’s boyhood, with its arresting first line: ‘‘‘That boy is mad’, my uncle said.”
“The Knock-Out” in which the poet John Keats witnesses a fight, in which “the champion drops / But first he
spins, eyes rolling in a swoon / Of sweet obliteration…”
And last but not least, “In Still Winter”, the most heartbreaking poem in the book:
Now at the edge of
I could believe that more
Each babe’s that’s born,
from its first cry,
Is God demanding,
‘Who am I?’
Though some men,
dying, ask the same,
And cry to Christ for
why they came.
The poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has written in the Guardian: “At his best [Robert Nye’s] work wears a curious permanence.”
His poems at their best have an authentic thrust to them.
Why doesn’t she recommend him to receive the Queen’s Medal for Poetry?
• An Almost Dancer: Poems 2005-2011. By Robert Nye Published by Greenwich Exchange £7.99, www.greenex.co.uk