Nigel Pantling

Nigel Pantling

Kingdom Power Glory is Nigel Pantling’s first full length poetry collection, and reflects his perspective on working life taken from three quite different careers.

In 1971, as a young Royal Artillery officer fresh from University, Nigel found himselfleading soldiers on the troubled streets of Londonderry, and he returned to serve in Belfast twice over the next few years. He drew on this experience in “Belfast Finds Log”, published by Shoestring Press in 2014.

In his mid-twenties Nigel joined the Home Office, and over ten years worked on criminal policy and in the prisons department, and was twice private secretary to Home Office Ministers. He was private secretary to the Home Secretary during the period of the Miners’ Strike and the Brighton Bomb.

A lateral shift from the Civil Service into the City in his mid-thirties led Nigel to specialise in mergers and acquisitions at two investment banks, before starting up his own business in 1997 advising company chief executives, which is still his principal occupation.

Nigel lives in North London. He is a past chair of trustees of Arvon, and currently chairs Fight for Sight, the eye research charity, and Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.


‘The toad work’ - as Larkin put it - squats on our lives. Yet there are few novels of the workplace, and even fewer books of poems. Kingdom, Power Glory is rare not just in its seriousness about work, but in the nature of that work. At a time when many national institutions are being questioned, this book finds humour and humanity among those who wield economic, military and political power. As the ex-HR exec in Cutting Back says ‘I could see the human consequences.’ Through these timely, satirical and razor-sharp poems, so can we.’

- Michael Symmons Roberts


'Nigel Pantling’s poems lift the lid on worlds closed to most of us. In language that is straightforward and precise, subtly ironic, he lets facts tell their own, often shocking, story. We never feel preached at, but, rather, are invited to reflect on veiled aspects of the world that surrounds us. The overarching subject of the collection is language, and the uses to which language can be put. The poems are perfectly judged encapsulations of situations in which protagonists use carefully chosen words to normalise what are often grotesque situations. This is a memorable collection.'

- Carole Satyamurti

After the Blast

 

Number 10 calls at three: by five I’m in Brighton.

It's still dark then, and as I approach the Grand

I pick past bricks, door panels, window frames,

railings from balconies impaled in the tarmac.

 

Arc lights pick out the gap in the white façade.

Behind a shimmering mist of dust, the rooms

are open-ended boxes of shattered furniture,

blue lampshades swinging in the breeze.

 

The Front is rowdy with sirens and generators,

whirr and whine of platforms and ladders,

rattle of chainsaws and clatter of masonry.

Early morning calls ring by empty beds.

 

The Party waits, like families at a pit-head,

cheering at news of someone alive,

groaning at a body on a stretcher.

Warnings about follow-up bombs go ignored.

 

Later, in a suit bought unseen from M&S,

my Minister will speak in solidarity with his leader.

For now, he and I are silent in the cloaking dust

wondering how long all this will take to settle.


 

Nigel on his work: 


 

Like many poets, I guess, I started writing as a teenager, and also like many poets I look back on that early writing with affectionate amusement. My big success then was winning the £5 first prize in the Spring poetry competition in my local paper, the Leighton Buzzard Observer. I submitted my poem under a pseudonym, and when it was published I had great difficulty persuading my parents I had written it. I strongly suspect it was the only entry.

 

 

 

There were few poetry books around the house when I was a child. The Golden Treasury, for sure, but that seemed terribly dry and worthy (besides, the print was off-puttingly small). But my father being an ex-soldier, there was a copy of the anthology put together in 1944 by Field Marshall Lord Wavell, himself no mean poet. “Other Men’s Flowers” drew me in with its combination of wit, wisdom and worldliness. If it stopped short of Eliot, no matter: The Waste Land lay in wait for me at University.

 

 

 

Studying maths at Durham and then working as a soldier, a civil servant and a banker left time for poetry and I kept going, but what I wrote found no audience beyond the family, nor did I want it to. Gradually, though, the urge to write grew stronger and in 2003, at a cross-roads in life, I found myself on an Arvon course at Totleigh Barton. And there I had a light bulb moment: “everything I’ve written to date is rubbish, and I should throw it away and start again”. I’ve had that same thought on each of the dozen Arvon courses I’ve attended since.

 

 

 

What a wonderful experience an Arvon course is, and how lucky I have been to be taught by Maurice Riordan, Carole Satyamurti, Jo Shapcott, Patience Agbabi, Michael Symmons Roberts, Michael Laskey, Vicki Feaver and George Szirtes to name but a few of my tutors over the years. All were inspirational in their teaching, unfailingly insightful and polite at tutorials- even under provocation -and inexplicably generous with their ideas and time. And out of their encouragement came a theme: I should write about work.

 

 

 

Surely not”, my writing group back home said when I broached this idea, “nobody writes poems about work. It’s not a proper subject for poetry”. And they may be right: the response to Kingdom Power Glory will show. All I can say is that writing about my experience of working life has been huge fun, and seems to have struck at least a quiet chord among ex-work colleagues who would never expect to find themselves reading a poem at all, let alone one that related directly to their own experience of life.

 

 

 

Kingdom Power Glory draws in part upon Belfast Finds Log, my 2014 pamphlet published by Shoestring Press. I owe John Lucas at Shoestring a great deal for his courage in taking on the project of publishing poetry about a soldier in Belfast in the Seventies. (He did so following a suggestion from John Hartley Williams, yet another Arvon tutor, whose funeral, sadly, took place on the very day the pamphlet was launched).

 

 

 

There are some new Northern Ireland poems in the “Kingdom” section of this book. The poems about the Civil Service (“Power”) and the City (“Glory”) have been written over the last couple of years, thanks to the pump-priming effect of weeks away embedded in the countryside, cut off from e-mail and telephone. Like many people, I struggle to find creativity when faced with constant interruptions from the day job. I have had to escape from work to write about it.

 

 


 

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