“The Vocation,” a Poem by Nick Laird

From the New Collection “Up Late”

November 21, 2023  By Nick Laird

It’s fair enough for a poet to have some dirt
beneath his fingernails
or a piece of leaf caught in her hair.

When you ask him how he’s doing
it’s fine for him to shuffle up
the bench a bit to let the ghosts sit down

or for her to pull a tangled length
of metaphor out of her pocket
to tie together all the losses.

It’s more than normal for a poet
to choose the window while
the novelists prefer the aisle.

When poets turn on each other
they are like milk turning.
When they love

they are children with money.
They think their desk is an altar
and wearing a black sweater

speaks of perpetual mourning,
that staring at the ceiling is
an hour spent thinking

how the mundane deserves
its beautiful due, and in the wallet
of the poet sit the business cards

they’ve printed up declaring,
on one side, the statement
on the other side is true,

and on the other side,
the statement
on the other side’s a lie.


Up Late: Poems - Laird, Nick

Up Late by Nick Laird is available via Norton.

Nick Laird
Nick Laird
Nick Laird is a poet, novelist, screenwriter, and critic. His many honors include the Eric Gregory Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His fourth collection of poems, Feel Free, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Derek Walcott Award. The Seamus Heaney Professor of Poetry at Queen’s University, Belfast, Laird lives in London and Ireland.

More Story
Brit Marling on Writing Women Who Get to the End of Their Stories Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi. Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists,...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.