Book Review – Taking the Long Way Home by Steve Nash, published by Stairwell Books
Young local poet Steve Nash has already built himself quite a following in and around York, and a reputation as an engaging performer (his spoken word performances often more-closely resembling stand-up or rock concerts). It is under a weight of great expectation then that his first collection is finally released.
One of the reasons for the Ripon-born wordsmith’s popularity has always been his unique amalgamation of styles. The poetry community is a fragmented thing in which one often sees pockets of like-minded writers or performers clustered together delivering a very particular kind of spoken word. There are those whose work is clearly intended for the page, there are those who prefer a still-traditional but very much performance-based rhyming formality, and there are the slam poets whose rhythms and precisions can mesmerise. This is all extremely reductive of course but it serves a definite purpose with regard to Nash.
At a glance you’d almost certainly peg him as a Slammer. Spiky hair, leather jacket, black nail varnish (and usually more than a few blushing young ladies in the front row), his rock starlet aesthetic leads to an inevitable assumption of style over substance. Boy does this kid love to prove people wrong. Nash’s poetry is an enthralling thing. His diversity of form and careful attention to musicality invariably results in some of the most engaging spoken word performances you could ever witness but, unlike many other great performers of poetry, it has always been clear that Nash’s work was destined for the page.
Does the book live up to the expectation and hype then? I feel foolish for ever having worried. Steve Nash’s debut collection is a marvellous artefact and one that, if enough people take note of its existence, could do no harm for the wider appeal of poetry in the country. It’s a big claim I know but it’s one that Nash’s first book is more than up to the task of defending. Taking the Long Way Home will do everything that great poetry should do but oh so very rarely does. It will break your heart, it will make you fall in love, it will make you see the world in a new way, it will send shivers down your spine, and boy will it ever make you laugh.
Opening poem, ‘Eletriptan or Why We Can’t Own a Gun’ is less a poem than a mission statement. It’s a brave opening and an important warning of what’s to come. It is a microcosm of Nash’s work in general. Intricate form, playful use of language, unflinching detail, and a tongue firmly wedged in the cheek. This is followed up with fan-favourite ‘The Good Book’, a celebration of the written word itself. Many favourites are included here from award-winning works like ‘Stage Play’ and ‘Perhaps Praying’, to the hilarious likes of ‘Hutch’ and ‘Base Jump’, but newer works, such as the gorgeous ‘Twins’ and the breath-taking ‘1453’, sit wonderfully alongside them in a collection that never drops in quality for a moment.
There are many elegies contained here too and, while it’s sad to say, Nash has become something of a master of this form through the alarming loss he has encountered. Friends are revered here but never in sentimentality. The language is tactile and immediate, we see these people, we touch them, we dance with them, and we mourn them. Whatever else we call such tragedy we must also acknowledge it as a gift.
So the negatives? It’s a tough question. The form is clearly obsessively thought-out and always serves the poem, the language used is invariably exquisite unless the tone dictates otherwise. You are never more than a line or two away from some astonishing turn of phrase with Steve Nash and the only criticism I could in all good faith level at this little gem is that it could be longer. Having followed Nash’s career since supporting the likes of Ouroboros Review and Open Wide Magazine there are a great many poems that are absent from this book and, while the need for concision and a strong editorial knife is important, I did not want this collection to end.
The collection is illustrated by Malin Bergstrom, a Finnish artist with an appropriate eye for the macabre. Her work marries the poetry well and is sparse enough to never detract from, only support, the focus of the book which is always the intricate surface of the poet’s speech.
Taking the Long Way Home is the work of a rare artist with a fire in his head (almost literally as the blurb on the book attests), but it is also an important addition to poetry in the English language. It is cutting edge without being pompous, it is technically brilliant whilst remaining accessible, it’s intelligent without being pretentious. In short it is one of the finest first collections I’ve ever encountered and it deserves your time and attention.
To view or purchase Taking The Long Way Home from the Stairwell Books online bookshop, click here.