There are certain books that inhabit my desk. I love to have them close at hand, to pick them up and encounter old friends: poems that accompany me.
One such example is Matt Merritt's Making The Most Of The Light. Back in 2005, it was one of the first ever pamphlets to be published by HappenStance Press and is long out of print. Of course, Merritt's verse has developed since then, and I also very much enjoy his later books, but the poems from that early pamphlet are special to me. Moreover, he didn't include any of them in his full collections, so there's a certain rarity value involved.
Perhaps my personal favourite is "Comeback". I'm grateful to Matt Merritt himself for permission to reprint the poem in full here:
And to finish I'll double
- no, treble - the black.
Corner pocket, after getting
just enough screwback
on the final red.
This one's for all the times
we played for safety
when we could have played
for so much more.
For all the times we worried
one foot on the floor.
I requested the afore-mentioned permission because short quotes wouldn't have done the piece justice. It's only on reading the whole poem that its emotional power, expressed with elegant simplicity, becomes clear.
"Comeback" begins with apparent liberation: an extravagant shot to finish a frame. From there on, Merritt qualifies the act. Syntax marries perfectly with semantics, as linguisitic and emotional restraint come together. By the final stanza, the reader has realised that the shot on the black is far from a liberation: in fact, it's an expression of anger at not having achieved any liberation at all.
As a consequence, the reader is sent scampering back to the start as soon as they reach the end: a terrific quality for any poem to possess. Limpid language doesn't have to be facile. In Merritt's hands, it's textured and layered. That's why I love his verse.
A month or two at most, I told myself; a place to catch my breath. The long, dry haul of my body’s bulk along the shingle, up the beach, the dragged sl...