I first came across Matthew M C Smith on twitter, as the editor of Black Bough, an imagist small press that has grown into something quite amazing – publishing anthologies and chapbooks and hosting an online community at @TopTweetTuesday . Reading these poems, you can see 21st century imagism in action. Each one is like a tiny scrap of film – intensely visual. There’s intense detailing in the poetry and the prose, and a great sense of time and place.
That time varies immensely – we start in the deep past – Cover him in sacred ochre with charms for a dead chieftain – a Mesolithic burial site on the Gower peninsula; hand axes, triangular stones, filling the palm-grip that cleaves, cuts, scrapes, cracks and smashes – a Neanderthal cave site lost to open-cast quarrying. We finish in the Space Age – six panes that show a bow-electric rim of light; drifting through the great void – where lips are planets tilting and limbs are luminous, giant jets of cloud on axis. In Aeons he takes us from kneeling in the scrub to the ability to fly.
In between, there are childhood memories and present-day reflections. Matt writes in a Welsh accent. By that, I mean the cadence, the rhythm of his words, is Welsh. There are faint echoes of Dylan Thomas in his memories of school trips and presents (Millennium Falcon!) from his uncle. There’s a generosity and creativity in his use of words and word combinations that feels quintessentially Welsh to me – the green steepled ravines, forests of firs, screens of trees. I feel that Matthew is writing within a tradition, but not bound to it. He’s expanding it, taking it somewhere new and powerful. There are Welsh places here – Paviland, Henrhyd Falls, Ogof Coygan – and Matt manages to make them real and mythical at the same time. He balances paradoxes – in Aeons he takes us from kneeling in the scrub to the ability to fly. He contemplates our ability to venerate and to destroy.
There’s a lot to love here. I think my favourite poem in the collection is Ancient Navigations. A road trip with a lover from the present, into the distant past, a standing stone, and then on, into something almost mystical – pass over ancient navigations, travel in the wind with all our people. Contrast that with Fixing the Hyperdrive, where young Math’s childhood is seen refracted through his relationship with a Millennium Falcon model. The detailed reality is stunning.
The Keeper of Aeons is published by The Broken Spine press. It’s a great collection. I’ve borrowed their image so that you can see the fantastic cover. I hope they don’t mind.
I miss the future – you know – the shiny one, all ergonomic curves and silver screens. The clean one. I miss that hope. I miss the boldly going, peace and prosperity, all that stuff. Perfectibility. Hoverboards. Utopia.
What are we stumbling into? Rain and the lights failing. Nobody home.
Looking back, I was never there – not in that room, that bed, that body. I was not lost. I was too heavy – I was sunk down in the dark, where the light runs slow. Blue shafts of sunlight filtering down – my eyelids barely touched – my skin too heavy, all my bones, too heavy. I was not lost, just deep, sleeping my dark sleep, dreaming my dark dreams.
For Merril at dVerse, who gives us a list of podcast titles, and asks us to incorporate two of them into a poem. Here’s the list:
Like pilgrims, walking into the new. Or parishioners beating the bounds. We walk our familiar walk, past the row of twisted oaks, past the stump that looks like an owl, past the lane that leads to Mary’s barn, up to the stile. We squelch across the top field, drop down to the track. It’s quiet. The light is fading, the sky is tinged with gold and violet. At the last gate, we hear an owl calling, and then another owl replying. The year begins.
mud and water the last of the light owl wakens
A haibun for Kim at dVerse. A new year begins. I hope it’s kind to you.