Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Poetry Review: The Alan Nonkey Anthology, 1986-1988

Alan Nonkey is a giant in the world of poetry. For two years he set the literature world alight with his beautiful, expressive verse and gorgeous writing. He burst on to the scene in early 1986 and grabbed his readers with a vice-like grip; he didn’t let go until mysteriously stopping all output in mid-1988.

Nonkey’s collected works are now available for the first time, for everyone who has eyes and a brain capable of converting squiggles on paper into thoughts in their head. Arranged chronologically, the works flow together like a poetic stream - possibly one in 19th-century Ireland – and bring emotions never felt before by this reviewer, and possibly, any other reviewer too..

Take the first poem in the collection; Help me I’m Trapped in an Abandoned Paper Factory:

Help me
I’m trapped in an Abandoned paper factory
I can’t find my way out
I’m just writing messages on paper with a piece of grit that I found on the floor
And throwing them out of the window

The poem continues for several stanzas, each conveying the metaphorical angst of the Everyman writer, trapped within his own need to create. This is rich allegorical stuff, and Nonkey really makes us feel his fear and pain at being a tiny creature within the big, bad world of literature.

These themes continue throughout the anthology, as demonstrated in For the Love of God I’ve Been Here for Four Months, published in The Massachusetts Review in August 1986:

Why has nobody come to help?
Isn’t anyone getting these messages?
I’m living off moss and water that’s dripping from a leaky pipe
And pooing in the next room
Why isn’t the exit clearly marked?
For the love of God I’ve been here for four months

While not Nonkey’s strongest work, this does demonstrate his grasp of metre and metaphor very well. The moss and leaky pipe water he mentions are obviously meant to resemble the meagre income of a struggling writer, but the lack of an exit tells me that he feels trapped in an enclosure of creativity. But despite initially gaining a sense of angst at this, I get the impression that he doesn’t actually want to get out.

Indeed, there is a definite sense of joy in Alan Nonkey’s work. His poems seem depressing to begin with, but subsequent readings uncover layers of joyous release. Take his most famous work, My Eyes:

I woke up with a rat on my face
Wish I could find out where he came from
My eyes are pretty badly scratched
He was pretty tasty though
But now my vision is getting worse…
Won’t someone please rescue me?

Can you feel the optimism coming through this poem like the sun breaking through the clouds on a rainy day? Alan is feeling the effects of his poetic success (the “rat on his face”), but the comforts brought by it are also contributing to a feeling of desperation, of fear that his muse will leave him (his worsening vision). But the desire to be “rescued” from this literary life is now almost a postscript in this verse. He has accepted his lot and his reluctance to strive in poetry is somewhat half-hearted.

I can’t recommend this anthology enough for fans of poetry and anyone who wants to try to embark upon a career as a writer of poems. It’s difficult, and while one moment you may be the toast of the literary world, the next moment you may have disappeared, like Nonkey, whose final poem, I Can’t Believe nobody has come to help me, was published in 1988.

You bastards
You utter, utter bastards
I can’t even go in the next room anymore
It’s full of my poo
And I’ve run out of moss

Nonkey’s agent claims that after this poem was submitted, Alan ceased all communication with him.

The Alan Nonkey Anthology, 1986-1988 is available from many book shops and one ice-cream van, oddly. Hardback edition is $24.99, Large-Format Coffee Table Edition is $199.99 and comes with a coffee table.


Anonymous said...

Oh man. I hurt from laughing at the "poo" verse. This is a book I MUST OWN! Yes.

Amy Green. said...

i want to write an entry! about hipster speed dating

Red said...

I read a similar book of poetry about a fellow trapped in a fortune cookie factory. Really compelling stuff.

Some Guy said...


Bitterly Indifferent said...

I actually bought my copy of his works from the ice cream van, and let me tell you, the next time I plan on purchasing great works of literature, I won't be going back there. The customer service was terrible, and there are mint chocolate chip stains on the binding.

They can do a pretty good black cherry waffle cone, though.

BeckEye said...

This is hilarious. I did "laugh out loud," I just refuse to type that acronym.

Anonymous said...

"And I've run out of moss."

A beautiful epilogue to a beautiful career.


Daltana said...

My son has aspirations to be a writer. Maybe this anthology will give him some insight to his future struggles.

Hopefully it will arrive in time for his 7th Birthday.

Soda and Candy said...


The fortune cookie guy red mentions must have studied under Nonkey.

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

TVA: It really is a the best collection of poetry about fear, isolation and a room full of poo.

Amy: Try me.

Red: Yeah, I think I saw that in My Weekly magazine.

Some Guy: I see you are a patron of the arts!

PMJG: I must concur; I had to fight my way through a bunch of kids to get my copy. They weren't too hard to beat up, but their sheer numbers made it a daunting task.

Beckeye: I'm the same. And thanks.

Erin: His mysterious disappearance is literature's loss.

Dealer Man: Good luck with that. Don't forget to save some money, because poets are scrounging bastards.

S&C: True, or he was a blatant copyist. And welcome!

Falwless said...

I can't say it better than Some Guy. Brilliant.