The title reference is elusive but at its simplest the piece urges celebration of ’the time being’, the ‘to-be-going-on-with’. At an instant when the poet is tested by mortality issues he takes the decision to savour the privilege of being alive.
In a collection that explores metaphysical issues, bringing us face to face with ‘Mick Joyce in Heaven’, with the otherworldliness of ‘George Seferis in the Underworld’ and Dantesque references to the underworld tunnels of the London Tube in the collection’s title-poem, Nonce Words places us as passenger to an ageing poet suddenly fearful for his own underground journey.
A symptom of old-age causes a lapse of memory: a missed turning, an alternative route.
Seasonable weather (a pre-Christmas cold snap) is recalled with great lyricism: Sun on ice/ white floss/ on reed and bushes; then a beautiful poetic device: the bridge iron-cast/ in an Advent silence (the bridge made of cast-iron, is also ‘cast’ moulded for and into the silence and spirituality of the moment). The speaker has taken a break in his journey: sat breathing mist/ On the windscreen.
His preoccupation, the thought that has caused his malaise and indirectly brought the poem on, is revealed in the word Requiescat (Latin: ‘May he/she rest in peace’ spoken as a prayer for a dead person). Its impact was sufficient to bring everything to a halt: my first stop /like this in years.
He alights from the car well happed up against the freezing weather, his mind at a distance: gazing.
He gathers himself. This is a moment for counting one’s blessings for the gifts life brings, however temporarily; for consciousness; for health and contentment, for everything to do with life. Not a blessing ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen’ (the text deliberately takes the initial the shape of the religious Blessing), but deliberately couched in earthly terms: in the name of the nonce (the present moment, the ‘time being’, the ‘to-be-going-on-with’, words created specifically to fit the circumstances).
- 5 sextets; lines of 6 syllables or fewer; 6 complete sentences; no consistent rhyme scheme;
- in (1) assonant [ɜː] Words/ turned [ai] bypass/ sign / I; end-of-line [ei] taken/ mistaken; [i:] east links with reed in (2); alveolar plosive [t] evident
- the lyricism of (2) offers a weave of [ai] ice, White iron/ silence [ʌ]Sun/ bush an [ɒ] of Nonce on/ on [æ] cast/ Advent/ across; sibilant [s] recurs in (2);
- in (3) ; [i:] re-echoes: breathing/ screen/ requiescat : bi-labial consonant sounds in number: [p] [b] and [w]; [ɪ] in/ mist/ windscreen;
- happed: colloquial usage for ‘wrapped’ in appropriate outerwear;
- in (4) s of vowel [o] stood frozen/ shore horizon/ stop [ai] rimed horizon/ like;
- in (5) multiple repetition as in enumeration of and its palatal nasal echoed in other words name/ nonce/ happenstance; chain of sibilants: blessed myself/ nonce/ happenstance/ knows/ nexts/ its;
- poetic licence: three interrogative phrases presented as compound nouns e.g. The Who knows;