Like all the best poets, Matt Barnard knows how to make poems bigger than themselves; short lyrics like ‘Please Follow the Yellow Line,’ ‘The Day Twilight Went on for Days’ and ‘Border Patrol’ manage to fill the page and the time beyond their reading, treading a nice line in Larkinesque terror. Writers like Charles Boyle and Charles Simic also come to mind in the poet’s highly original metaphors, his ability to draw symbol from the everyday. There are lyrics here on everything from cows named after Jane Fonda and Bette Davis to villanelles about intellectual property and the knotty question of dying hair in middle age. This is a poet with the highest regard for the reader, who offers us poems that lay out a welcome mat, before ushering us into the conservatory to look out at that incredible, incredible view.
Anatomy of a Whale is Matt’s first collection and will be published by the The Onslaught Press in March. Praise for Anatomy of a Whale:
‘A wide range of subject material and a knack for ‘telling it slant’ distinguishes this lively and perceptive collection. Here is a poet interested in the makers, of bread, of maps… He connects imaginatively with danger, moments of crisis, and with the impact of the natural and animal world across time and history, in poems about the whale, the dog, the cat, crows, cows, gannets. There’s a grounded fascination with myth here, also, making this an absorbing and thought-provoking read.’ Penelope Shuttle (poet and novelist)
‘From its opening poem, ‘A Lamp Shop,’ in which the speaker finds himself wondering ‘why all the bulbs are lit through the night,’ and notices ‘the town drunk hunkering down/in the doorwell opposite, his back turned to the light,’ Anatomy of a Whale is an accessible and richly symbolic collection. Like the most welcome guests, these restrained and powerful poems announce themselves forcefully, don’t outstay their welcome, and leave our rooms changed.‘ Jonathan Edwards (winner of the Costa Book Award for Poetry)
‘This is a varied and rewarding collection. The poems are imaginative and well-crafted, alert to the vagaries of the human predicament, as well as offering often surprising perspectives on the natural world.’ Carole Satyamurti (poet and sociologist)
Dark river of itself, curled in the bottom of the creel
the small myth was an absence, a light taker,
pulsing with malevolence, its oily body slick
with power and potential, head, tail, middle
a single unremitting story told to the end.
None would put his hand in, tempt the malicious eye
or risk springing the trap of its jaws. Even its name,
the mysterious double e, defied us, bled sound.
Neither fish nor animal, we knew elvers would cross
fields and roads to reach the sea. Could he be a god?
Three days they forgot about him in the bucket.
He baked in the sun, skin drying brown,
contemplating the distant blue of the sky,
until one took pity and brought him down to the sea
uncurled his body and with tender fingers
sluiced the water through his gills.
How it must have felt, the prisoner released
into the light, Houdini cheating the burning rope –
the thin triumphant smile, the vengeful gleam,
before he disappeared into the blackness of himself.
Highly Commended, Bridport prize 2015
Noah to God
My grief moves like the sea, it carries me with it.
My nose is full of animal smells; I breathe the same hot air
the animals breathe. I feel their heat.
Salt works its way in everywhere. It scours our skin,
it makes our hair brittle, our hands crack.
Lions bed down with cattle, the elephant no longer moves.
I still hear the screams of my neighbours, my friends.
Their fear overwhelms me, and my heart
holds the sounds of their drowning children.
May be salvation is in the sad eyes of the zebra.
The Counterfeit Jew
In answer to the Jewish question I answer ‘no’
though by my brow, my eyes, my nose you’d be forgiven
for thinking so;
for even in a room of Jews on Sabbath Friday, one asked
if I was one, and said of all the men there, I was the one
you wouldn’t ask.
I followed their rituals, took water like proper Jews
do, like my father’s mother’s father must have done, but
I watch the news
and see stone-throwers nightly face the tanks, and lies
and wonder who my lost people are who can only
see one side, eye
for an eye, ten deaths for a death. Who is counterfeit,
those who lose their lands, their histories, or the lessons
Look, look, the boy said, as he conjured flowers
from the air. The father smiled. Very nice.
And look, the boy said, making water
disappear inside a newspaper
then making it pour into a jug.
Very impressive, the father said.
Now look, the boy said, levitating
and going too high. Be careful, the father said.
But look at this, the boy said
juggling with knives. I don’t like that
the father said. But look, this is even better
the boy said, taking up three chainsaws.
You’re frightening me, the father said.
But I can do this, the boy said, cutting off his arm
and then reattaching it, and the father said nothing;
he was too busy holding his breath.