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Enemy Luck

Nicholas Laughlin
Trinidad and Tobago
Date published
14 Mar 2019

In using an epigraph from the 18th century poet Christopher Smart, for years incarcerated in the madhouse (“For I am not without authority in my jeopardy”), Nicholas Laughlin stakes his case for a poetics of radical innocence (for “The less you know, the less mistaken”) including the accidental, the punning slip, the puzzlingly axiomatic, (“You bruise a grammar before it bruises you”). Indeed, when a poem speaks of “the unstable topography” of dreams, some readers may feel in a more stable and recognisable place. This is not a poetics without Caribbean precedent. Like the brilliant Jamaican poet, Anthony McNeill with his “mutants” (retained typos), for Laughlin “Errors are not accidents”.

Enemy Luck is almost an encyclopaedia of ingenious devices and forms: cut-outs that hint at kidnapping threats; a poem resembling the often mystifying chapter summaries of the 19th century novel (in which…); visits to geographical territories mutated from a Wilson Harris fiction (Borges is also an inspiration); found fragments; lengthier extracts from a variety of sources, from Strabo to Oliver Goldsmith, whose meaning is changed by their new contexts; Poundian translations where the original is absorbed into a characteristic Laughlin voice rather than a mere replication; an index to some fugitive travel narrative inviting the reader to construct their own story; seemingly absurd narratives that make perfectly good sense; seemingly realistic narratives that mystify like an Escher building; a cast of personas from Cousin Hermes to King Q.

Here is a collection that invites us to read actively, to pick up clues, to insert ourselves into the dialogue between the poems. Above all, Laughlin challenges us to think about the expectations and accumulated experiences we bring to the shaping influence of a variety of literary forms – and helps us to deconstruct them.

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Nicholas Laughlin

Nicholas Laughlin is a writer and editor, born and living in Trinidad. He is editor of the popular arts and travel magazine Caribbean Beat, and in 2004 he revived the literary journal The Caribbean Review of Books, covering Caribbean writing for a general audience, published in print and online.

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