Review: The Keeper of Aeons by Matthew M C Smith

The Keeper of Aeons

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.


Review: A Landscape with Birds by Beth Brooke

This collection of poems by Beth Brooke is perfectly named. Yes, birds flutter through its pages, but for me the key aspect of the collection is the sense of place. These poems are rooted in the landscape. On an emotional level, these poems examine freedom and release; the intensity of parenting, and the poignancy of what remains once change has happened.

Beth knows her birds: they are beautifully depicted. A jackdaw is a “Parisian punk”, geese fly like “a plough turning the soil”. In one of my favourite poems, she depicts a robin – “martial, disputatious” – but when we share Beth’s tender gaze, we also see the vulnerability of a small bird in a world where “night is always cat-shadow black”.

Beth takes us to many places: an attic room “the right size to be comforting”, a garden in Marrakesh, a ruined chapel in the woods. She notices details – remnants, she creates fantastic images: a power station is “a scab on the horizon”, ravens are “black plastic scraps”. Suddenly we see things slightly differently.

Many of these poems meditate on freedom and release. A son leaves home, a trapped bird longs for “the sky and clean rain”, ashes are set free. There are losses here, but the sense of release makes them beautiful. One poem is explicitly titled _Ploughing, April 2020_ – written in those months of lockdown. I wondered how much lockdown had added to that yearning for release.

Some of the most powerful poems centre on the intense emotions that come with parenting. In _Finding the Wing_, she soothes an “anxious little fist”, at the same time noting the loss of innocence and infancy, and in _Influenza Epidemic 1919_ she writes of parents “preferring their dreams of the lost children” to life itself.

This is a skilled collection of tender poems, full of imagery, rooted in reality. I think you should read it.

A Landscape with Birds by Beth Brooke is available from Beth @BethBrooke8 or from