Alice Oswald

Nobody
  • Nobody

  • This is a book-length poem – a collage of water-stories, taken mostly from the Odyssey – about a minor character, abandoned on a stony island. It is not a translation, though, but a close inspection of the sea that surrounds him. There are several voices in the poem but no proper names, although its presiding spirit is Proteus, the shape-shifting sea-god. We recognise other mythical characters – Helios, Icarus, Alcyone, Philoctetes, Calypso, Clytemnestra, Orpheus, Poseidon, Hermes – who drift in and out of the poem, surfacing briefly before disappearing.

    Reading Nobody is like watching the ocean: a destabilising experience that becomes mesmeric, almost hallucinatory, as we slip our earthly moorings and follow the circling shoal of sea voices into a mesh of sound and light and water – fluid, abstract, and moving with the wash of waves. As with all of Alice Oswald’s work, this is poetry that is made for the human voice, but this poem takes on the qualities of another element: dense, muscular and liquid.

    one person has the character of dust

    another has an arrow for a soul

    but their stories all end

    somewhere

    in the sea

Alice Oswald lives in Devon and is married with three children. Her collections include Dart, which won the 2002 T.S. Eliot Prize, Woods etc. (Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize), A Sleepwalk on the Severn (Hawthornden Prize), Weeds and Wildflowers (Ted Hughes Award), Memorial (Warwick Prize for Writing), and Falling Awake, which won the 2016 Costa Poetry Award and the Griffin Prize for Poetry. She was elected as the Oxford University Professor of Poetry in 2019.