Nasser Hussain: Boldface

boldface cover

The preface to poet and creative writing lecturer Nasser Hussain’s new collection Boldface states that “his poems are meant to be read aloud, preferably quite loudly”. Hussain’s work is very much rooted in the US Slam and Spoken Word traditions, echoing the likes of Saul Williams and Amiri Baraka, and anyone reading it ‘on the page’ would do well to imagine it being proclaimed from a stage, pub backroom or theatre.

Nonetheless Boldface is a cohesive corpus of work with thematic and stylistic continuity. It is organised into three sections. The first, Buy and Sell and Give and Take, focuses largely on consumerism and identity in the capitalist western world. The second, Rhythms, covers some similar themes but is carried by wordplay, which is used as a kind of study into the music and power of language. The third section, Trivial Pursuits, is divided into six categories corresponding to those of the popular board game, and the poems within have been constructed from text found on randomly selected question cards.

nasser hussain

The influence of US Slam poetry, which tends towards autobiography and activism, is evident in poems concerning multiple identities, such as Where I’m From, and in poems that directly confront the status quo, such as Blaring American. But there’s more to Boldface than that, something pleasingly madder and more unexpected. Hussain’s main strength is his insatiable fascination with language, not simply as a means of communication but as the very substance of life itself – in his free-flowing monologue Outside the Box he asks “what if language were everything, if all there was was language?” The lyricism of his style works on prosody, assonance and wordplay – it’s technically unremarkable but provides a melodic backdrop from which Hussain can explore, enjoy and interrogate the English language, get right under the skin of it, sometimes just for the hell of it. The most extreme examples of this come in the final Trivial Pursuit section, in which quasi-nonsense sketches could be seen as bordering on the banal.

That said, the sheer delight in the power of words communicated so emphatically by Hussain gives his work a striking energy and defiance. It demands the reader to engage with it, rather than sit back and hand out literary criticism, so I think it best to do just that. I can only admire his lust for unadulterated emotion, if perhaps remaining a little too ‘English’ to buy into it totally.

Words: Genevieve Carver.
Image 1  ©  Burning Eye Books.
Image 2 © Nasser Hussain.


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