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Comparative View of the Heights of the Principal
              Mountains &c. in the World

I never thought I would come all this way
to come all this way.

My first book of poems, The Strange Years of My Life, was published in April 2015 by Peepal Tree Press. The fifty-seven poems collected here were written during a period of more than a decade, in starts and (mostly) stops.

The troupe of “friends” and “strangers” whom the reader encounters in these poems are sometimes alter egos, sometimes aliases, sometimes adversaries. They inhabit a milieu of mistaken identity and deliberate disguise, where “there are too many wrong countries” and “already no one remembers you at home.”

Despite the book’s title, these poems are rarely autobiographical, and have few straightforward stories to tell. They puzzle over accidents, coincidences, and codes, as they describe journeys and wonders, edging towards a sense of the world’s curious strangeness, the complications of what we call history, the contretemps of geography.
The poems belong to a hemisphere of the imagination that encompasses the narratives of nineteenth-century travellers and twentieth-century anthropologists, spy movies, astronomical lore, the writings of Saint-John Perse and Henri Michaux, and the music of Erik Satie. They balance on the edge between concealment and revelation, between bemused fascination and tentative comprehension. Every sentence is a kind of translation, and language is a series of riddles with no solutions, subtly humorous at one turn, sinister at another, heartbroken at the next.

The Strange Years of My Life cover

86 pp • ISBN 9781845232924

Image above:
Comparative View of the Heights of the Principal Mountains &c. in the World, published by C. Smith, London, 1816.
Courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection.


1     Species the maps don’t know

Everything Went Wrong
Les Rendezvous
Villa-Lobos Among the Cannibals
El Sur
Lamps, Clocks, Mirrors, Maps
The Gambler’s Song
Reading History

2     Because I have a hard time sitting still

My Traitors
All This Way
Gringo Toujours
Self-Portrait in the Neotropics
Chinese Whispers
My Beautiful Friends
Je Vous Écris du Bout du Monde
Enough Is Enough

3     Your accent is wrong

Bon Courage
A Place to Start
Self-Portrait as Last Citizen of the Island
Sub Rosa
Further Mistakes
Mr. Keats Has Left Hampstead
News from Rome
Ars Poetica

4     The answer is strange

I Discover I Am Russian
After Eight Days
I Think I Am Becoming Myself
When I Said “My Heart”
If You Came Here Looking for the News
The Waker’s Song

5     Birds do not yet have names

Bodies of the Saints
Deux Lapins
The Mysteries
Les Argotiers
The Diver’s Song
Strange Currencies
A Legend
The Dreamers
Accident of Birds

6     Small Husband

Self-Portrait at the Start of the Rainy Season
My Prey, My Twin
Small Husband:   Mercy on My Small Husband
                                My Little King and His Armies
                                My Head Was Too Big
                                Hardly Bargained
                                Wordless as a Surgeon
                                Famous for My Hunger
                                Something on the Governor’s Head
                                Your Alias, Small Husband
His Magnitudes


A series of small printed objects intended to hover near, or be inserted into the pages of, The Strange Years of My Life; outtakes, extras,
interruptions, distractions. (Because I find myself bored with the idea of the book as a finished enterprise, a closed system; and because there are still so many bits and pieces in my notebooks.)

How I Do My Days
Masseur to Mr. Keats
Something We Stumbled On
I Am Not Who You Take Me For
Friends and Strangers
When I Am a Bird
Form of Agreement


masseur to mr keats
something we stumbled on
I Am Not Who You Take Me For
Friends and Strangers
When I Am a Bird
Form of Agreement

• • •

Read more poems by Nicholas Laughlin