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All March day the birds do sing
as if sauterelles on a zither
not as if and neither like
for they’ve become so.
Wind unveils a sediment
the white in smoke signifies flesh
fields appear flatter
Saline in
the cockerel water

the pheasant
left pecking.

the motif birds of spring that make the song

Nicholas Johnson Cleave (2013)


ISBN 978-1-906742-55-3


This new version of Nicholas Johnson’s Cleave is notable for its apposition of the darknesses of modern rural life with a quality of light, that springs from a deep interest in people and a respect for the healing power of love. The structure is almost musical. I for one am reminded of the quirkiness of a Havergal Brian symphony, or indeed Shostakovich.
Fred Beake

On Cleave, First Edition (etruscan books, 2002)

These poems cut through the world of political expediency with a sure understanding of the pragmatics of destruction. They also hold close a register of loss which is all the more forceful for being embedded in a known world.
Ian Brinton

Cleave is a large scale serious work with well-advised variety for such a major undertaking. The tone is about right – hard always in the case of bad things
Bill Griffiths

In this assemblage Cleave, Nicholas Johnson wrote about the first agricultural plague of the 21st century Europe: foot and mouth. Cleave was an Arts Council commissioned book of 2002 whose subtitle ‘The Debatable Lands’ encapsulates both theme, and Johnson’s uneasy sense that this acclaimed work was none-theless too journalistic, standing against the side lights rather than the headlamps of his subject.

Ten years later he’s reconfigured the work. Cleave solders poems from Her Gentle Slab to the assemblage, poems both carnal and of carnage. The collection sings and resonates with a depth of perspective and a new authority. It’s heavier with the weight of where it’s been.


Tears in the Fence, Jan 2013: http://tearsinthefence.com/tag/etruscan-books/


Nicholas Johnson was born and raised in North Devonshire. His works include Loup, Haul Song, Land and Show (from writers forum, Mammon Press and etruscan books). The Lard Book is a film of its final performance in 2002 by Brian Catling and Sarah Simblett and is available on DVD.

Johnson read Performance Writing and Visual Performance at Dartington College of the Arts. He was Writer in Residence at the Arnolfini in Bristol for the exhibition Starting at Zero, Black Mountain College, 1933-1957. He ran the 6 Towns Poetry Festival in Stoke on Trent from
1992-1998, and For The Locker And The Steerer in London since 1999. Johnson curated B.M. Bottomley´s exhibition at Salthouse, St Ives in 2009.

He lives in Devon, and Hastings drawn by the Electric Palace Cinema, where he some-times works — and founded Black
Huts Festival.

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