Poetry has no precedent for the voice in Letters from Aldenderry. Colloquial and demotic, it takes pride and pleasure in the sound of American, but it is emphatically “from elsewhere” in its joyful symmetries. What astounds is the multiplicity of Nikolayev’s registers and his command of perfect verbal pitch. This is cosmopolitan one-man theater at its best. Life is all there, its whole nine yards from birth to shock to recovery, from thoughtful conversation and intimacies of the soul to standup guffaws and punning provocation. Filled with an organic fusion of extremes, with healthy experimentation and a history of poetic forms that looms behind every line, this book is an apotheosis of freedom that shuts the gaping gulf between lyric and avant-garde. The poems are about what has been lost and found and is worth keeping: creative solitude, empathy, love, pain and laughter, the poetic experience itself. Words do not swallow the reader in an avalanche of consciousness, they flow to a varied musical rhythm and make sense. The overall impression is integral and wholesome. The work succeeds at modeling a persuasive modern hero—a far-flung, uprooted émigré intellectual who makes his home in diverse languages and cultures and stares at the world through a unique pair of eyes. This type is among the most interesting in current literature, fraught as it is with multiple biography, dialectics, contradictions. A poet can cultivate compassion to the point of sheer self-transformation. Nikolayev is crazy in the best possible sense of the word.
‘Philip Nikolayev’s new collection is magnificent. His loyal readers will delight, once again, in his ability to tease and to move at the same time. Like Nabokov, he opens up English to its own alienation—he finds rhymes and half-rhymes, puns and lexical jokes, odd-sounding adverbs and adjectives, where native speakers would miss them. But he is much more than merely ludic. He also quests: he has a mobile, philosophical mind, and relentlessly uses poetry to explore what he calls “our prism of comprehension.” There are splendid poems here, as rich and robust and lyrical as anything being written in America today.’ —James Wood
‘From its opening poem “Eagles,” with its marvelous spoof on what to make of signs and portents, to the astonishing memory poem “The Art of Forgetting,” to the final “Earth,” with its elegant heroic couplets, culminating in the line “The land has willows, something needs to weep,” Philip Nikolayev shows himself to be at once a master of the “natural” conversation poem as well as of the most witty and ingenious ghazals, sonnets, quatrain poems, and other fixed forms. In Letters from Aldenderry the reader experiences repeated shocks of recognition, accompanied by the pleasure of recalling that, yes, that’s how it is! How did this poet know it feels that way? This is a truly exciting collection of lyrics, as surprising and varied as it is original.’ —Marjorie Perloff
‘The electricity of Nikolayev’s poetic intelligence is such that, although with the distinctive mark of poetry that was written to please nobody but himself, everywhere his poetry seems to speak right out to the reader.’ —Ben Mazer
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