|Aldeburgh First Collection Prize 2011|
Shortlisted for Forward Best First Collection Prize 2011
Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Regret and departure. Sleeves soaked in tears.
I walk forward turning round, like the pilgrim
who carries a mask on his back.
A road movie in verse, a creative engagement with another culture, Gaffield’s sequence of poems responds to Hiroshige’s woodcut prints (1833–4) depicting the landscapes and travellers of the Tokaido Road, which linked the Japanese eastern and western capitals of Edo and Kyoto. Submitting to the road and its relentless succession of departures and arrivals,the poems discover a freedom to move beyond the frames established by Hiroshige, not least in their voicing of regret and longing, grief and desire.
‘The project deals most satisfyingly with a question raised by its own design: what happens to us when we look at art? The answer is, we start to make art.’
– Todd McEwen
‘The poems are strong in atmosphere and realisation, fluid, involving, at home with the uncertain, with human grief, memory, longing, history . . . Here, then, is poetry as time machine, providing what Elizabeth Bishop required of poetry – “mystery, accuracy, and spontaneity”.’
– Penelope Shuttle
‘Nancy Gaffield’s Tokaido Road is inspired by a road trip: the Japanese artist Hiroshige’s scenes of the “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” (1833). One might think that Gaffield set out to translate Hiroshige’s images (her book usefully directs the reader to a website with reproductions of the prints) into word pictures, but the reality is more intriguing and more complex. Who and where is the “I” that speaks in these poems: in the nineteenth century town- and country-scapes of Hiroshige’s prints of the pilgrimage from Edo to Kyoto, or in some contemporary re-enactment of the old journey – or both? . . . Employing a variety of stanza forms and the prose poem, Tokaido Road invites the reader, poem by delicately delineated poem, to enter the old scenes as well as the poet’s mind and if, at first reading, the poems feel quiet and meditative, we learn to spot each slight ripple of emotion . . . Gaffield’s collection is a fascinating fusion of Western and Eastern art by someone who is respectful of both.’
– Beverley Bie Brahic, Times Literary Supplement
‘Exquisitely judged, these short poems triumphantly avoid the temptation of mere illustrative description . . . Their success owes much to a combination of contrasting elements held together by immersed attentiveness. Taking the traditional narrative device of a journey, Gaffield produces an evenness of tone that is never dull and that matches the cohesion and continuity of the original woodblocks: like them, the poems are a set. At the same time, the present tense of the journey gives the landscapes and those travelling in them a real immediacy: and the footnotes and glossary (again, beautifully judged, never preponderant) allow the poems themselves to remain essentially uncluttered. Above all, they have a wonderful lucidity that never devolves to thinness.’
– Lawrence Sail, Warwick Review
‘A hugely ambitious and complex project, and the writing is always intelligent and thought-provoking.’
– Susan Wicks
‘The forms in Tokaido Road range widely, including sonnets, prose poems and haibun, while always concentrating on the lyric moment of prints and poems that are simultaneously static and in motion. As the speaker remarks in “Shimada”, “I want you to connect the image / with the human story”, an aim realised by the whole of this thoughtful project.’
– Carrie Etter, Guardian
‘A consistent voice is punctuated by echoes and repetitions from one poem to another, but also an impressive variety of approach: in some poems the narrator is an observer; in others, she enters the frames, and what’s depicted often escapes their limits. The poems are not dry verbal renditions of visual art, but subtly arranged artworks in themselves, drawing out the significance of what’s already there for an engaged and imaginative viewer . . . Image and thought, showing and telling, seemed almost conjoined.'
– Rob Mackenzie, Magma
‘There are 55 poems here, each responding to a woodcut about a single staging point or “station” upon the Tokaido Road between the terminal points of Nihonbashi and Kyoto. Sometimes the poems describe the locations with verisimilitude; at other times they are more complicated, describing a journey into the woodcut print itself and / or making the print sing with invented narrative. The poems are remarkably vivid . . . As a poetic response to artwork, this is a compellingly cinematic collection. These poems are in a complex correspondence with the Tokaido Road prints, but also succeed as poems in their own right, conjuring atmospheres and stories without the woodcuts being there.’
– Mike Loveday, Eyewear