ROY FISHER: Introduction to Nuttall’s “Selected Poems” published by Salt Publishing, 2003
"Breakfast at Guernsey Grove" catches, on more levels than one, a moment of Eric Mottram's hospitality. Anybody who stayed, as I often did in the Sixties, at Eric's' previous place, the basement flat on Kensington Church Street, will have had the experience of being allowed, around three a.m., to give up and doss down on the couch in the living room. The last thing I'd see as I reached for the lightswitch across the great bedside pile of books my host had assembled against the impossible event of my getting insomnia, was an object by Jeff Nuttall that watched from the top corner of a tall bookcase. It was an overfilled-to-bursting doctor's bag, a dusty Gladstone from which viscera, rubber things and respirator hoses bulged, apparently caught, though possibly only temporarily, in the act of escaping. Satirical? Not really. Observant. Extravagant. Wary. It was my first meeting with Jeff Nuttall's work and it was an accurate guide to most of the multifarious ranging of his activities. Besides "art" there was of course theatre - the Quack Doctor from hundreds of years of mummers' plays and the hint of a future Friar Tuck to rival Eugene Palette's.
And there was already the abiding theme, to be found everywhere in this collection, of the politics of boundary and containment, and the aesthetics of that zone, something like the sea-bed fissures out of which magma continuously steams and smokes to create the world. In human terms there's always the assumption of the precariousness and the permeability of the self's temporary packaging: the brain-box, the bone-locker, the bag of guts, all miraculous, all vulnerable, all capable of breaking bounds and messing up the moquette.
Like any life-forms that aren't pickled in jars these poems draw on their manifest energy for their form. Particularly interesting are the poems that have empirical reference: locations, for example, that another consciousness could check against experience or assumption. And in doing so probably apprehend with unusual emphasis what a variety of different worlds our familiar individual aesthetics look out on.