Matt Merritt has published two books of poetry, a pamphlet titled Making the Most of the Light (Happenstance) in 2005, followed by Troy Town (Arrowhead) in 2008, his debut full collection. Accessible yet complex, Merritt is one of the few poets on the U.K. scene to carry off this juggling act. His poems invite the reader in, before generating layers of nuance.
Making the Most of the Light goes way beyond most first pamphlets. Not just a “Best Of…”, it develops a number of themes, often via the use of subtle juxtaposition, as in the collection’s positive title alongside its dedication (For Rebecca Merritt 1968-2004). At the same time, Merritt also shows himself to be adept at great set pieces (Sweet Nothings), excellently executed extended metaphors (Comeback) and the undervalued English art of self-deprecation (Familiar). This pamphlet shows a poet in exciting evolution, capable of striking chords without resorting to facile gestures.
Troy Town displays a number of key differences. Unlike many other poets, Merritt didn’t draw on poems from the previous pamphlet when drawing up his debut full collection. Instead, the reader is offered a clean slate and a book that’s symphonic. In other words, this is a collection which compresses and reflects a couple of years in the poet’s life. Pieces bounce off each other, depend on their neighbours and are strengthened by their strategic positioning in the book. Less immediate than Making the Most of the Light, Troy Town does still invite the reader in, but Merritt’s capacity for creating nuance is building: we have to work just a little more to suss out where we are, what’s going on and what might hit us on the next line. Of course, his skill is always teasing away in the background, less blatant than before, but reminding us that our efforts will be rewarded.
Matt Merritt is a poet to watch over the coming years. His voice, already striking, will surely mature even further. I just hope it reaches the wider readership that it deserves.
We read a poem: Swineherd: (Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin) When all this is over, said the swineherd, I mean to retire, where Nobody will have heard about my...