Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Review: hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, by Matt Merritt

Nine Arches Press have recently brought out Matt Merritt’s second collection, titled hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, and I’ve been very much enjoying it these past few weeks.

While his previous books (Making The Most Of The Light and Troy Town) were extremely satisfying reads, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica reaches much further and should ensure that Merritt’s poetry gets the recognition it deserves. With this collection he’s fully establishing himself in a territory where few British poets move with assurance and imagination: history. As a university graduate in the subject, Merritt’s touch with his material is deft, but we’re not just talking about his dealing with public figures and events here. Natural and personal histories are evoked and their parallels with that afore-mentioned public aspect of history are underlined through subtle juxtaposition and recurring motifs, lifting poems way above mere academic interest.

For example, on a personal level “A Fixer-Upper” deals with an intimate setting. Written in the first person plural, it talks of “alternative versions of past/and future”, just as “Lyonesse” finds the narrator waiting in a café, “deep in conversation with myself,/finally getting on with my past…”. and "Halcyon" ends with “the past submerged, the future flown.”

In public terms, meanwhile, we encounter “Dreams From The Anchor Church”. A dramatic monologue in the voice of an Anglo-Saxon solitary, this poem talks of how the narrator “struck out with my face to the future/to find myself walking through the past.”

Merritt thus implicitly draws comparisons between different types of histories, showing us how the study of the subject opens up avenues of more personal understandings. These threads flourish as the collection moves on and are drawn together in several pieces such as from “Tesserae”, in which the contemporary narrator contemplates the history of a city and how it’s interwoven with the history of his life. The poem begins with…

“Having rewritten the past
a dozen times this morning,
I find myself at the museum
next to the Wall.
I haven’t been
since I was 10, but it’s still the
case that everything
happened a very long time ago…”

“Ambition” might be an overused word when discussing poetry, often mistakenly used as a synonym for “experimental”. However, in the case of hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica I do believe it’s applicable, specifically in the breadth and coherence of Merritt’s treatment of history, in the way he harnesses poetry’s transforming qualities to cast new light on age-old themes, enabling the reader to view the past from a different perspective so as to apply it to the present and future. All in all, this is an outstanding collection in the context of present-day U.K. poetry, and I thoroughly recommend it to the readers of Rogue Strands.

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