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Nuttall grew up in a remote valley of Herefordshire, where his father became the village schoolmaster. Nuttall formed his standards of assessment in this valley and they have not altered very much since. He trained as a painter in the years following the Second World War, and in 1962, as a result of a session at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, and as a result of meeting Bob Cobbing, he began writing poetry.
In 1975 Nuttall was elected chairman of the National Poetry Society and held this chair throughout the confrontation between the modernists and the neo-Georgians for which the NPS formed an arena. In that year he was Poets’ Conference nominee for Poet Laureate.
This book is a selection made from the work of a lifetime that coincided with the Cold War. It is clearly the writing of a man who expected the human species to terminate within his lifespan. An elegiac mood prevails behind the scatology and verbal clowning. Nuttall’s long line is much in evidence, punctuated by staccato percussive passages. The content always reverts to a gravitational concern with the way in which physical love must transform the repellent without euphemising or diluting its Swiftian character.
The poems we have are mostly desperate, the poems of a man who is afraid the light is going to go out forever, a man in panic. They echo and extend Nuttall’s involvement with jazz, in the rhythms, breathe-groups and harsh tonalities. The alternative disciplines of Welsh poetry, learned through Hopkins, make them relentlessly dynamic.
Nuttall has lived first by teaching fine art in schools and polytechnics, finally by acting small parts in film and television. He has been busy across a broad range of creative disciplines but it is in his poetry that his inimitable concerns are most clearly seen.
‘Like any life-forms that aren’t pickled in jars these poems draw on their manifest energy for their form.’ —Roy Fisher
‘Overall, Nuttall’s Selected Poems conveys a sense of how language can be manipulated for different ends. His novel painterly and musical poetry form a distinctive approach and legacy that has been marginalized more from the lack of an appropriate critical language than anything else. Combined with his critical writing, his poetry offers a celebratory vision of nature and the body, as opposed to material greed and shallowness. Seven hundred people, many of whom were taught by Nuttall, attended his London memorial event. He inspired them to fulfil their potential.’ —David Caddy, Wandering Dog
‘The Selected Poems (Salt) of the poet, novelist, artist, musician, actor and cultural commentator Jeff Nuttall, published very shortly after Nuttall's death in January 2004, offers an excellent selection of Nuttall's poetry, and acts as a superb, if unplanned, memorial to this multi-talented and influential man.’ —Robert Greenwood, The Guardian