I Take Nothing Strong, Only Lightning, the first collection of poetry published by Beaconsfield-born Nathan A. Thompson, is an assemblage of ten years of writing (from the age of 21 to 31) which positions itself in a dialectic of the two brows: the low and the high.
From the collection’s two endorsers – a Sunderland-born rapper and a New York Times best-selling author – to the gaping cultural transition in ‘English Bachelor’ of a man idly reading David Hume while his beard “grows like his Amazon wishlist”, and the opening line of ‘City of Four Faces’ – “Monks chant a bassline” – Thompson traverses the contours of both the vernacular and the literary, placing himself in somewhere at the centre of this Venn-diagram.
In fact, the high and the low are the two major paradigms of this collection, which must surely fall within the genre of addiction verse. Many of the poems deal with the author’s turbulent drug years and the monotony of junkiedom. In the opening poem, a dealer “spits small rocks to fuel the remains of the day” while “saliva dolls down my pipe. Tranquilizers don’t work”.
What we find is not the ‘propaganda of the addict’, of a mind imbued with creativity when veins are imbued with smack, but instead a solemn portrayal of urban decay, mainly in London, encapsulated in ‘When I Walked To Work’: “bicycles like velociraptors, barging cars and bus lumps filled with meat and prurient eyes spewing dark air”.
A number of poems promise rural salvation – which is never to be found. Instead, placidity is found in escape, namely to Asia. Today Thompson is a freelance journalist based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – where the Orient provides a cathartic distance, as does the act of writing: “I love the smell of writing in the morning”.
The poems in this collection are far from uniform, transitioning between the occasional prose poem and what were most probably originally raps. Thompson is rich in the metaphor – day long benders are described as not having “seen sheep for days” – and has a clarity with his words. Do not expect a light, gladdening read. Since, as the author writes, “I’m a beriddled tree with problem squirrels in me”.
Physical copies of I Take Nothing Strong, Only Lightning (published by WOW Books) are on sale across Cambodia and a digital copy of the collection can be purchased here.