Nigel Wood: Where Were You When the Stars Went Out?

Out now on Like This press, Where Were You When the Stars Went Out? consists of a group of 10 poems in memory of the singer Jhonn Balance (of the group Coil), composed by applying a chance selection procedure derived from Jackson Mac Low to Rilke’s “Duino Elegies”, then treating the results of that process as a first draft to be edited, shaped, added to, deleted from, etc.  Phil Davenport has commented how: ‘Nigel Wood allows himself to be a vessel of others’ voices, other modes of hearing. In this daring but subtle book he uses another human’s life as material for an experiment in both commemoration and forgetting. Where were you... is a scattered memorial for the musician Jhonn Balance, quite unlike the ‘lead graves’ and last words that are usually stacked up to make the obituary of a life. In fact, they frequently mock the ponderousness of death-speak and the gothic. But more intriguingly, as I read some of these pieces I have the sense that the lines have been somehow erased even as they’ve touched the surface of the page, they’re the gaps in narratives, the pieces of half-dusted thinking, the moments of lucidity that toppled. It’s a book that’s been lived rather than written, or, more fancifully, I suppose it’s a book that’s been ‘died’. Wood’s melodic transliterations of this other-space sing from from the page, they’re scores of what comes between – breathings-in and whiteout. This little book of un-ideas imprints on me deeply – and has done so from the first time I encountered it. The details are so sharp and so heavy: childhood’s illnesses evaporate across the inevitable scales to nowhere Poised to a nicety, Wood writes us into some impossible conjuring trick – a knife blade balancing atop a pebble. The delicacy of these moments is often vertiginous, unsettled. Jhonn Balance lived forcefully, embracing both the shitstorm and the big light. Where were you… somehow manages to employ the forces that impinge on living as components of composition. It’s as if horror and happiness, disappointment, ennui, forgetfulness, transcendence have become tools for shaping. And out of it all, something emerges that is brisk and full of marvelling.’

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