Review: “Niv 39 & 27” by Nicholas Alexander Hayes

Niv 39 & 27

BlazeVOX Books describes itself as a publisher of “weird little books”, and if Nicholas Alexander Hayes’s new collection NIV: 39 & 27 is anything to go by this description could not be more apt. NIV 39 & 27 is both weird with a capital W and short enough to get through in a single sitting.

Using as his source material a Gideon’s Bible, Hayes has constructed a series of short cut-up verses–each either thirty-nine or twenty-seven words in length–as well as a series of shorter “Plates” drawn from a copy of the Baghavad-Gita. This particular context is crucial to an understanding of the work, which is why it is somewhat frustrating that the blurb (in which the essential concept of this book is explained) is so small and difficult to read. Should one simply flick the book open and start to read, the text would be confusing at least.

However, once you’ve got the idea, Niv 39 & 27 manages to remain thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout. The pieces are partly sound poetry and partly an intent examination of the themes and language of the two holy books from which they are created. Even better, most manage to stand as individual stories in themselves. Take “37” for example:

“Land and new wine labor your hands. The prophet carries holy meat in the fold of his garments; oils any food. It becomes a dead body, uncleans priests of the ninth month. The son of my ruins is everyone.”

The shorter “Plates”, found in the centre of the collection, divide the book neatly in two, and serve as a break from the intensity of the longer poems.

As each piece is presented alone on its page, there is a compelling amount of white space in this book. Each short poem appears two-thirds of the way up the page, and each plate two-thirds of the way down. The remainder of each leaf is completely blank, unmarred even by page numbers. This treatment emphasises the stark and furious nature of the language. These poems have a gravity borne both of their ancient language and their minimalist presentation.

NIV 39 & 27 is an experiment and, happily, it is one that has worked. It is available from BlazeVOX Books, here: blazevox.org

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Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.