Throughout this outstanding collection, there is the sense of an elsewhere, at once tantalizingly close and unreachable. The opening poem, 'Glitch,' describes a fall and the unshakable sense that follows, 'of being wanted somewhere else.' It recalls Emily Dickinson’s line: 'Life is over there–Behind the shelf…' Yet Dickinson’s lonely oddity could not be more different from Laird’s family scene ... Laird is formidably accomplished—his poems range from free verse to villanelle (further exploring freedom and limitation through form)—and is keenly aware that language is only as good or bad as people make it ... Several poems are one better than still lives—they function as animated lives ... But the greatest joy of reading this unmissable collection is Laird’s peripheral vision as a poet: the deer seen from a suburban train; the unplanned signature on a windowsill in deep red dust; the many glimpses of elsewhere.
...haunted by an uneasy attitude toward selfhood ... Feel Freeattempts to gaze unflinchingly...wondering what it means to live a life when a single, knowable self simply won’t hold still ... it seems vital that poetry continue to inquire into twenty-first century selfhood, even in the absence of satisfying conclusions ... That Laird’s poetry does this modestly, even in self-deprecation, does not diminish the courage of the act. If Feel Free does not disabuse too thoroughly readers’ own comforting notions, there is momentary refuge to be found in its wry lucidities — that rare and particular solace of camaraderie borne by good, honest mental company ... If something like 'transcendence' is folded within these pages, it is in these moments where, fraught with doubt as the human experience is, something shines through.
Americans invented business English and confessional poetry; doing business in the UK is an entirely different thing, and confession there is a chump’s game. Reading Nick Laird...one is always aware that [his] speakers are arguing, persuading, bargaining, carrot-dangling, sleight-of-handing, and losing gallantly ... Laird, having spent some years in the service of a mode of language that smothers any hint of human emotion or subjectivity, can’t resist toying with it in the medium that’s supposed to be all about human emotion and subjectivity ... Subverting the false order of a hyperautomated society, even by violence, becomes a kind of fantasy—and this from an Irishman who has written about real sectarian violence in his childhood ... What’s so animating about Laird is that he is able to hold this idea in his head—that survivors of trauma must speak about their experiences—and simultaneously to believe, as he told The Guardian in an interview in 2005, 'Poetry is fiction as well. It’s like a psychodrama—a walk through someone else.'