This short pamphlet captures the contrast between normal and the new-normal that we currently face, with Covid-19. The first poem, ‘A Tragedy of Revenge’, has Shakespearean or Jacobean dramatic overtones with phrases like ‘Her mastery of murder’s arts’ and ‘spread death with baited breath’. The compressed lines effectively deliver the shocking nature of the pandemic’s quiet stealth.
In ‘Psychopathogen’, the virus is personified as an innocuous-sounding ‘globetrotter’ which is ‘travelling incognito’. There is irony in the fact that the new normal of Lockdown is a ban on international travel. Nigel Kent goes on to describe the horrific effects on throat and lungs when the virus takes hold. It will
then slip away unseen
from the siren scream
The freedom of school-free days is set against the reality of Covid symptoms in ‘Fever’. Kent writes of ‘this graduate of boredom’:
he dreams of examinations,
of test results,
of crisp uniforms
Perhaps, in the future, people will find it hard to believe the way customers ‘stocked up with toilet rolls and pasta packs’ in the first wave, as described in ‘Hyperopia’. This poem looks at the negative effect of Lockdown on a relationship:
and she resolved when things went back
to normal, she’d get her eyesight fixed.
I had to look up the title of the poem ‘Aestivation’ which, I then discovered, means ‘dormancy’. This is a poignant poem about someone cut off from real contact, perhaps living in a care home. I particularly liked the ending:
when living is the smudge
of a handprint on the glass,
obscuring the bright sunshine.
The final poem, ‘A New Kind of Normal’, shows how our choices have become more limited — and this also acts as a subtle metaphor for not being able to go back in time:
She’d liked to have sent it back,
but it was, ‘Non-returnable’.
These poems are straight-talking: perhaps they can help as we adjust to our new normal.
Sue Wallace-Shaddad, http://www.sphinxreview.co.uk
During lockdown, while some of us could only gaze aghast at the statistics on the ‘daily update’ and wonder if it would ever be safe to venture outside again, Nigel was busy creating a truly excellent collection of poems which will outlast the pandemic for sure. There’s a chilling portrayal of the virus as a ‘globetrotter’, ‘travelling incognito’ – how true; a vengeful Mother Earth, I can’t blame her; a relationship thrown into sharp relief during lockdown and many more gems. Sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, this collection is rich with apt similes and metaphors. I’m also left with some intriguing questions – who is the ‘guardian’ with the slipped halo and what was the ‘non-returnable’ item ordered in ‘A new kind of normal’? I think I had better read those poems again to try and work it out….
Sarah Thomson, author of “Before it’s too late”
Psychopathogen succinctly captures living in the shadow of Covid-19. From the plight of St Peter to homeschooling parents, the ailing teenager who dreams ‘of the elixir of lessons‘ and make-do affections through a windowpane – every one of these poems is equal in strength. At once darkly humorous, empathetic, moving and contemplative, Nigel’s writing is considered and impactful; accessible and meaningful to all.
Vic Pickup, poet, writer, reviewer
This collection of poems, a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, is both perceptive and witty. It contains some trenchant observations about family dynamics and our reactions to the unprecedented threat we all face – “sick from a surfeit of internet sensations and Netflix serials” – while bringing a smile to the face of the reader. This little offering from Nigel Kent is one of the few good things to have come out of the Covid crisis!
Michael Dowling, reader
I’m particularly enjoying Psychopathogen by @kent_nj . I’ve read lots of pandemic poems by now, and for me, these strike the perfect balance.
Niall M Oliver, Poet
Just devoured this laser-sharp lyric thunderclap by @kent_nj. Superb writing by Mr Kent & excellent book quality from @hedgehogpoetry. “his wings buckled beneath him, / halo slipped, covering his mouth and nose / like some makeshift surgical mask”.
Brendan Booth-Jones, Editor-in-Chief of Writer’s Block Magazine and author of ‘Vertigo‘
What a superb chapbook! Moving and witty insight to accompany my breakfast today. ‘Psychopathogen’ itself and ‘The Office of Mum & Dad’ poems particularly stood out!
Barry Hollow, poet.
Underpinned by a profound sense of loss, the poems in ‘Psychopathogen’ explore the effect of strange times on ordinary people, for whom life will never be the same again. We see an unwilling schoolboy; middle-aged marrieds; homeworkers and a shielded grannie. Life has changed and will continue so to do. Kent is a past master at penning empathetic poetry and here we see life under lockdown in all its spheres. His lenses focus on relationships, values, ethical stance and perspectives on the Cover-19 world and beyond.
This is a good read, creative, interesting, engaging, worth the time.
Polly Stretton, poet and Chair of the Open University Poets Society
I very much enjoyed Nigel Kent’s follow up work to ‘Saudade’, ‘Psychopathogen‘, in which he draws one in quite wonderfully to life during the Covid 19 pandemic and encourages us all to reflect upon its long term consequences for our daily lives and relationships. I especially appreciated the poem, ‘Psychopathogen‘, which draws out the unseen, devastating nature of the pandemic and how he captures our collective mood of despair in the verse, ‘You’d all like to wash your hands of me, but you’ll need to catch me first‘, a sentiment that grows stronger with time. There is a large degree of pathos too for the female partner in a marriage in the poem ‘Hyperopia‘ which must reflect a number of relationships whereby the whole process of being confined in one space together leads to a greater clarity in a relationship and an epiphany: the incompatibilities and weaknesses that she had previously overlooked were now starkly visible, ‘and she resolved when things went back to normal, she’d get her eyesight fixed‘. The pamphlet comprises only eight short poems, but it encapsulates for us all months of living through this awful experience in which so many have died or being seriously damaged.
‘Psychopathogen’ – Nigel Kent with his exceptional voice, manages to steer the reader through dilemma, tragedy and irony with his ordinary language, making his point extraordinarily. Fantastic read.
More excellent poetry from Nigel Kent. What strikes you immediately is how fully realised all the characters are in just a few, short lines: Covid, St Peter, a schoolchild, a wife, parents, a grandparent in a world so recognisable and clear.
Poems truly written for our times. Insightful and vivid use of language. A remarkable feat of empathy from various angles and situations. I look forward to reading more of his works.
Absence, nostalgia and memory
In Saudade, Nigel Kent traces lives and their losses, carefully threading themes of love, death and legacy to reflect on how we record and remember our existence. Art, poetry and the body’s demise all serve as frameworks, yet it is absence and nostalgia that dominate Kent’s debut collection.
Five poems are written after well-known artists, including ‘The Maids’, inspired by a 1987 painting by Portuguese-born Paula Rego. In this poem, hands are a powerful and ambivalent force, creating and destroying in equal measure. In ‘Lipstick Smile’, art itself is ambivalent: a father cruelly uses an artistic metaphor (‘like painting/ over flakes of rust;/ the past carries on/ corroding unseen beneath’) to warn his son about his choice of wife. The harshness of this message, as well as the father’s ability (or curse) to look beyond beauty to see what lies beneath, characterises the stark and poignant tone of Saudade.
In ‘Clearing Out’, a woman agonises over the objects that have shaped her life, unable to throw away such distinctive memories. Her insistent refusal, ‘Not yet! Not yet! Not yet!’, will later find an echo in the collection’s powerful non-ending (‘linger, linger, linger’). It is not possessions, however, but poetry that serves as the most pertinent evidence of having lived. The collection opens and closes with performances, which frame the sequence as a poetic memory. The speaker in ‘7.30 p.m. at the Art’s Workshop’ is inextricably bound to her creation: she has ‘iambs/ beating loudly/ in her chest’. Poetry is not the words she voices, but the marks they make on her body.
If poetry is necessary, it is also corruptible. Indeed, the innocence of ‘those naked words/ [that] shivered/ on the page’ will later be twisted into ‘oily opalescence’ by the smooth-talking speaker in ‘The Urban Shaman’. Here, the body (and our abuse of it) reveals the truth: ‘a city of a thousand/ cuts laid bare/ her sleeves ripped back/ to show the weeping wounds/ that she conceals’.
Diverse bodies populate Kent’s poetic landscape, many of which are in decline. In ‘Dignitas’, the subject is naked again, requiring assistance to carry out one of the most basic human necessities, his dignity washed away ‘like the dirt swirling and gurgling/ down the drain beneath his feet’. Another potent symbol for this degeneration comes in ‘Sweet and Sour’, where ‘frayed bags for life/ filled with Kilner jars/ of pickled strawberries’ reveal the layers of our existence. The poet contemplates how long this drawn-out life can last, the heart still beating while the body decays.
Kent is arguably at his most poignant in the prose poem, ‘Bleak, dark, and piercing cold…’, which takes its title from Oliver Twist. Through a deceptively profound analogy between a homeless man and discarded piece of chewing gum, he shows how bodies can be turned into unwanted stains on a landscape: ‘They spit you out like gum that’s lost its taste, yet they complain it’s you who litters the city’s streets’. The problem won’t go away however much we try to ignore it: the politician ends up ‘irked by the sticky glob embedded in the tread of handmade shoes’.
A tension also exists with technology, which is brought out prominently in ‘Faraway’. In this poem, a worried father checks his phone in the hope that his daughter will have texted. The wait for this elusive message tests his patience, a virtue that continues to dwindle in the modern world. Although technology seems to offer an immediate solution to saudade, in the end it merely reaffirms the absence. This is reflected in ‘Saudade II’ where technology cannot resolve the poet’s longing: ‘I try once more/ to cut and paste you/ by my side’.
Ultimately, reading Saudade is an enriching experience. The reader will share characters’ frustration at an inaccessible past or evasive present/presence, as well as sadness at the body’s inevitable decline. But, more importantly, she will feel quietly invigorated. For Saudade is full of small moments of pleasure and beauty which give us something for which to yearn.
Daniel Clark, editor of Briefly Write, https://brieflywrite.com/
“I read the new poetry collection by U.K. poet, Nigel Kent, and I learned a new word: saudade. I read the poems before I looked up the definition, wondering if I might be able to define it simply by reading the poems. I sensed it had to do with love, longing, and loss, like losing something or someone you deeply loved. Even if you found what you had lost or regained the lost relationship, you somehow knew it would never be the same.
As it turns out, I nailed it. Or, actually, Kent’s poems nailed it. “Saudade” is from the Spanish or Portuguese, and some consider it untranslatable as an English word or short phrase. A story from NPR explains it this way: “The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again.”
You wander through the world of “Saudade“, and you discover that melancholy, a sweet melancholy. It may be lost relationships between a child and parents. It may be the suffering of a miscarriage. It may be a marriage breaking down into anger and mistrust. Or it may be bullying, an insensitive schoolteacher, an empty bird’s nest, an unfavorable comparison with a sibling, or a father’s unwelcome if accurate advice about a new girlfriend. Kent writes about all of these things, and slowly you come to realize that there is a kind of melancholy pleasure, or joy, even in painful circumstances.
In one of the two title poems, Kent combines this sense of pain and melancholy pleasure in describing the ending of a relationship, with both people feeling the pain and already the regret. For the man, regret is “already running down unshaven cheeks.” For the woman, the memory of this will last the rest of her life.”
Glynn Young, “Tweetspeak”, https://wordpress.com/block-editor/page/nigelkentpoet.wordpress.com/65
A new thing I’m going to try here. As part of the Hedgehog Press Cult subscription, I get free copies of their publications and we’re encouraged to write reviews of them. I’ve fallen behind, just because of life, but I’m going to try to include one or two in my blogs as often as I can.
The first collection I read was Saudade by Nigel Kent. His poems flicker between a multitude characters, mothers of lost children, a disappointed father and son, a recovering stroke patient, the young, the old, male and female, each carefully crafted and individual. Their voices resonate, sometimes desperate, edging towards hysteria, sometimes having given up, all burrowing into the reader’s mind. I found myself immersed in each character. So impressive how he managed to step into so many shoes and give us such a strong sense of their desires and frustrations. The book is beautifully done.
Gerry Stewart, Edging Towards a New Year.
Nigel Kent’s intimate poems provide a quiet mouthpiece for the disenchanted examining what it is to be human with all its frailties. They urge us to linger on the ineluctable question of what it is that makes life complete.
Maggie Sawkins, author of ‘Zones of Avoidance’ and Winner of Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, 2013.
‘Saudade‘ paints poignant and memorable characters. From the father-son relationship, deflated by the father’s expectations for a sporty child, to illicit affairs and parental arguments, I was hooked. Kent searches for kindness, ‘wish/the world could see him/with a mother’s eyes’, in a world of hardship and betrayal.
Isabelle Kenyon, editor of Fly on the Wall Poetry Press and nominee for Saboteur Reviewer of the Year 2019.
‘Saudade’ – the title has it and I can think of no-one better able to express in poetry an appreciation of what has been lost, and the pangs of loss, than Nigel Kent. These poems express an exquisite poignancy and demand to be read and re-read.’
Adrian Green, author of ‘Chorus and Coda’ and ‘All that Jazz and other poems’
I was lucky enough to hear Nigel Kent read some of his poems on Zoom recently and by the time I got to ‘Man-Made‘ in this collection I realised the writer’s ability to capture voices immediately distinct and yet each one so different which he has done so well with his most recent collection also, published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press, ‘Psychopathogen‘. When you get to the line ‘the quiet sound of gnawing’ you touch what is precious about this collection- its ability to come close to a hope that cannot be completely held and yet the collection never tips over into indulgent. It is not sentimental but an acknowledgement of the truth which can be a difficult pill to swallow especially in these days with ‘google is god’- possibly the saddest reality of our times. But we cannot go back, just as we ‘cannot find a way to place my arm around your shoulder and put my hand in yours.’ There are mini movies within the pages here, whole lives unfolding in carefully chosen words that reveal beginning and endings over the space of single pages like relationship settlements ‘In the Car‘ and and life of the bullied life of the gifted in ‘Cursed’. And yet, at the finish of the final poem, there is an encouragement to ‘linger, linger, linger.’ And that is exactly what I intend to do- linger longer with this superb collection and its cast of fragile but beautifully cast characters.
Damien B. Donnelly, poet and author of ‘Eat the Storms’.
“Nigel’s poetry is deeply-felt and accessible, rooted in the real world, in the experiences and inner lives of ordinary people, their family-relationships, their failings, their despair and their hopes.”
Suz Winspear, former Worcestershire Poet Laureate.
The first thing that strikes you is the beautiful cover and with everything Hedgehog Poetry Press does is present their books at such high quality, this collection is a must read which I can totally engage with the sentiments inside, not being a big fan of social media this book really appealed to me a lot, where a world is seduced by image and no substance, but this collection stands out from the crowd, Kent has done something quite special an honest and brilliantly written book of poems. My favourite poems in the book are ‘Breakfast Scene’, ‘Normal’, ‘Cursed’, and ‘Home Truths‘, but there are so many great poems to choose from, such as the opening lines of the title poem: “She takes them to be spots of light/reflected in the mirrors of her eyes/ like the specks of white a painter/ knows sparks of life into a subject’s face.”
M, Amazon Customer
“So many of these poems are short stories (or even novels) in miniature. Told from the viewpoint of a child, parent, teacher, pupil or even simply observer of life (plus sometimes, art) it is tantalising to speculate where autobiographical reflection ends and sheer imagination kicks in! Personal favourites (destined to be future classics?) include ‘Juliet in the Hijab’, ‘Follower’ and ‘Staffroom Guerilla’. All the poems are easily accessible but there is something new to be discovered in future re-readings. As the wistful title suggests, they never flinch from depicting a sometimes melancholy reality. They combine Austenesque observation and unfaltering verbal accomplishment with vivid recreation of (often very contemporary) experience!”
MS, Amazon Customer.
“The title of the collection roughly translates from the Portuguese as “nostalgia” or “longing” and there is a deeply personal theme which threads its way through many of these poems. It is as if the poet is looking back and asking the question “What might have been?” As such there is an element of sadness but also a tenderness in much of what he writes, and some of the poems like “Follower” and “Breakfast Scene” also offer humour and acute observation….. the reference to teenagers who ” find truths in tablets of plastic“, for instance. Some of the imagery is delightful-“gin soaked lips” and “crowbar arms folded across a bosom” are a couple of my favourites.”
Robin, Amazon Customer.
What a well chosen title for such an excellent collection of concise poems. The works are littered with sensitive and poignant insights into individual and family life, as exemplified so well in ‘Follower‘ which describes a teenager as a ‘headphone hermit‘: we all know this character intimately. I also enjoyed the keen observation and pathos exemplified in the ‘Breakfast Scene‘, and having recently experinced my mother’s steady decline in a nursing home, I feel so drawn to the deep emotion triggered in me by ‘Audrey’s Time‘. I can highly recommend this wonderful treasury of intimate poems.
JP, Amazon Customer.
The beautifully titled ‘Saudade‘ more than lives up to its name, that yearning for someone or something that’s absent. The poetry is evocative, stirring, and emotionally satisfying. ‘Miscarried‘ with it’s raw grief and ‘Red Canna‘, which I find hilariously uplifting, are two of my favourites. But dip in, test the poems out, so delicious.
Polly, Amazon Customer.
‘Saudade’ is a collection of very vivid poems about what it’s like to be an outsider. We find ourselves in a world where success is narrowly defined; there’s a right and wrong way to behave; love is rationed; power is abused and hopes are often dashed. Yet the poet’s perspective is one of understanding and compassion and he encourages us to feel the same. That, for me, is what makes this collection so special.
Sarah, Amazon Customer.
At first study this captivating set of poems seems dark and even morose, but further reading reveals a poignancy that is almost uplifting! Nigel’s observations are meticulous and compassionate, exploring the frailty of the human condition without being judgemental. The characters in each poem are dysfunctional at best, but all possess a profound sense of yearning and regret that the reader will find deeply moving.
Stephen, Amazon Customer.
There is a cast of characters, crossing decades of time and age, and the poet manages to put you inside their anguish and their joy. The poems have a natural pace and drive that hides the carefully crafted structure. A recommended read to remind you of the richness, often in sadness, of other lives lived.
Willow, Amazon Customer
Fantastic read. Insightful and intelligent as it rolls between heartwarming and heartbreaking. I read it cover to cover in one sitting, and then again.
Mrs A, Amazon Customer
A fabulous collection of poems by a very talented writer! Well worth a read!
Holly, Amazon Customer