Nicholas Johnson

Cleave (2013)


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:

Out of stock

ISBN: ISBN 978-1-906742-55-3 Category:

Praise and Poems

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


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

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