Small Talk: Nick Laird

Born in Northern Ireland in 1975, Nick Laird read English at Cambridge. Before devoting himself to writing full-time, he worked as a lawyer for six years. In addition to three award-winning poetry books, Laird has written two novels, Utterly Monkey (2005) and Glover’s Mistake (2009). He teaches poetry and fiction at Princeton and at Barnard College and is married to novelist Zadie Smith, with whom he has a daughter. The couple divide their time between New York and London.

Who is your perfect reader?

Gertrude Stein said she wrote for herself and for strangers. That’s about right for me. I’m my own perfect reader.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Louise Glück’s collection, Poems 1962-2012; New Ways to Kill Your Mother by Colm Tóibín; The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher; India Knight’s Mutton; Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King.

What is your daily writing routine?

When I’m in London, I go out to the end of my garden and stay there till it gets dark. When in New York, I write on the eighth floor of the library across the road from where I live.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Pam Grier, who played Foxy Brown in 1974.

Who might you choose to play you in a film about your life?

Adam Scott, who is in Parks and Recreation and who people say I look like. Also, Gonzo from The Muppets.

What book changed your life?

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald and Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist. We were given both for GCSEs. I have a physical memory of reading them – what they felt and looked like.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

Something massive and unnerving, like Holbein’s Thomas More or El Greco’s St Jerome or Velázquez’s Pope – some old guy staring at you out of the past.

Who are your literary influences?

Everyone I ever read. In Northern Ireland, when I was young, I started reading Heaney, Longley, Mahon, Muldoon, Carson and Yeats, Beckett and all the Irish writers.

What keeps you awake at night?

The usual things: the monkey mind, death, worries, work, my daughter who climbs into my bed at 2.30am and the dog, which sleeps in my bed and likes to bark every couple of hours.

When do you feel most free?

I like to be somewhere where I can’t actually do anything, such as on an aeroplane, when I’m running, at the hairdresser’s or barber’s, or anywhere where you can abdicate responsibility for yourself.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

There’s a courtyard in Wawel in Kraków, which is very nice.

What book do you wish you had written?

You only write the books you can write. A book is a distillation of its writer. You can desire this man’s art and that man’s scope but you can only write your own books.

Nick Laird’s latest poetry collection is ‘Go Giants’ (Faber)

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