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.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Secondhand books

There's an excellent article by Wayne Gooderman up at the Guardian Books Blog at the moment, titled "The secret stories of book inscriptions".

I've always preferred secondhand books to new ones. The pages have a lived-in feel, while hints of previous existences often appear in them, such as train tickets or postcards, once used as bookmarks, enabling the imagination to speculate.

However, as Gooderman's article points out, the most intriguing aspect of secondhand books is often the bespoke dedications that we encounter in them, leading us towards stories beyond those told by the texts that follow. I personally find the dedications from grandparents to grandchildren the most poignant ones when I'm searching in charity shops for books for my son. These discards of adolescence are charged with the concentrated expression of love by elderly people. I invariably buy them because books, like people, deserve a second shot at love.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Rialto Issue 70

I managed to pick up my contributor's copy of Issue 70 of The Rialto during my recent trip to the U.K., and have been paying it close attention.

Apart from the wide-ranging batch of young poets in Nathan Hamilton's feature, I was particularly taken with three poems by Hannah Lowe that combine strong narrative, vivid language and endings that don't just satisfy but open out beyond, qualities which make quoting from them an irrelevance. I'd never heard of Lowe before, but I'll certainly be looking out for her work from now on.

This is an excellent example of how the best literary magazines, such as The Rialto, can help us seek out new voices to feed our hunger for great poetry!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Writing in Spanish

Blogging's had to take a back seat to life these past few weeks, as work and family drove me through December and the festivities.

However, I'm now back home and refreshed enough to play with new challenges. A number of Spanish friends have been urging me for years to write in Spanish, discussions of my poetry being limited by their poor knowledge of English. This has led me to write a few Spanish versions (never translations) of my poems over the last few days. Just for fun. But with the wonderful consequence of viewing the originals afresh through the filter of a new sociolinguistic perspective.

I don't think I'll be publishing my work in Spanish anywhere soon. Apart from anything else, its poetics would be sniffed at by most on the Iberian peninsula. Nevertheless, I've encountered a game that I'm going to keep playing, letting reflections bounce back and forth, seeing how I can then enrich the originals.