Poetry Review: Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir

Poetry Book - Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir

Fourth Person Singular begins with the intriguing line: “The door to my interior was propped open and a fly buzzed in.” This sets the scene for a poetry collection which experiments with form in unexpected ways, using metaphor and analysis to explore the notion of self-hood and internal thought. I was not surprised to discover that Nuar Alsadir is a psychoanalyst. This innocuous little book is challenging, provocative and beguiling in equal measure, though I am still not quite sure entirely what to make of it.

There is an emphasis on examining the nature of internal dialogue, set apart from the context in which it occurs, a focus on absence (literally – blacked-out or greyed-out words) and the inability of language to express meaning, along with a continual stream of references to well-known literary figures:

Hemingway would record every detail around an event – say, a bomb exploding – then take out the event and leave only its reverberations.

The first section has the feel of an extended haiku sequence, or a set of proverbs – a series of isolated pieces (some complete, some incomplete).

Fourth Person Singular - blanked out

These pieces (I’m not absolutely sure that I would call them poems) could also be seen as fragments of thought, jottings in a diary, or moments of insight amid the daily grind of commuting and communicating with the outside world…

Thinking off the page: a plane circling over its destination, waiting for a signal to land.

Although I was not able to find a narrative thread behind these fragments, there is an uneasy sense of striving towards full understanding, yet never achieving this aim. This re-occurs in later sections, particularly in what seems to be a sequence of prose poems centred around a train journey, which begins with tangible experience:

I always make sure to position myself before a window, have vowed not to stand with my back to the world, searching my phone.

and gradually delves into self-analysis:

This relationship I imagine being articulated between the universe and me is parallel to the one I imagine being articulated inversely, between my unconscious and conscious minds.

Fourth Person Singular - photo of notes

Moving from fragments to prose poems, the book then expands into a kind of essay, introducing the next sequence of ‘Night Fragments’ by explaining their origin:

I began to use a method of accessing my interior which involved going to bed with a notebook on my bedside table… setting my alarm for 3:15 a.m., and, at hearing the alarm, waking for a few seconds to write down whatever was at the top of my mind…

This is interesting, and occasionally insightful, but feels more like a psychoanalytical experiment than poetry.

Another miniature essay follows, this time on the subject of the lyrical ‘I’ and how poets connect with the ‘you’ they are addressing. This expands into an explanation of the title – Fourth Person Singular – as an attempt to find “the embodied self with concurrent selves in alternate spaces”, followed by an investigation into the notion of the “fourth dimension”, complete with diagram.

Despite feeling ethereal and, at times, beyond comprehension, these poems, fragments and essays occasionally revert back to the physical world with hints of medical diagnosis and hospital visits, giving a sense of inevitable mortality:

I run the risk of fading. Yet, inside, such deep pink –

Ultimately, this is a book which explores the idea of self in all its multiplicity, and how that can or cannot be articulated. It echoes the ideas of the Modernists, quotes from and interrogates Kafka, Barthes, Freud, Einstein, Nietzsche, Stephen Hawking and other great thinkers, and creates in itself a reflection on the human intellect. It also explores the enigma of communication, with all its flaws and inconsistencies, and is in some ways a kind of literary criticism, reflecting particularly on the work of Marianne Moore, and analysing the process of writing.

I enjoyed parts of it, and found other parts frustrating and difficult. It seems to be part poetry, part prose, part scientific study, but it’s certainly not like anything I’ve read before. If you enjoy philosophical debate and grappling with psychological theories, then this is the poetry collection for you.

Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir is published by Liverpool University Press.

Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.