Monday 25 September 2023

My mate Mat

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in
Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books. However, that won’t stop me telling you on multiple occasions over the coming months just why his pamphlet is ace. That’s what friends are for, you might think. And yes, you’d be right. Though it really is ace

Oh, and we ended up organising Rogue Strands readings as a tag team (he’s Big Daddy and I’m Giant Haystacks), and will soon launch our new books together (my second full collection,
Whatever You Do, Just Don’t, and his first pamphlet, Collecting the Data). There’s a beautiful symmetry to this process, as our meeting at my first launch has contributed in no small way to the existence of our new books, which we’ll now celebrate together.

We’d be absolutely delighted if you could join us to share the occasion at the Devereux Pub in London on 7
th November alongside three top-notch guest poets (Hilary Menos, Maria Taylor and Eleanor Livngstone), plus the shining presence of the two terrific publishers themselves, Helena Nelson and Sheila Wakefield. See you there…???!!!

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