Quote of the Day
If it were not for Carcanet, my library would be unbearably impoverished.
Louis de Bernieres
Subscribe to our mailing list
Review of The Book of Matthew, Charles Bainbridge, the Guardian
Saturday 19th June 2004Previous review of 'The Book of Matthew'... To the 'The Book of Matthew' page...
Charles Bainbridge welcomes the unique sensibility of Matthew Welton's first collection, The Book of Matthew.
Matthew Welton's first collection, The Book of Matthew, is something of an achievement: it arrives with a unique and distinct sensibility; his poems create their own evocative and elusive worlds. There is a kind of relaxed quizzical sensuality running throughout, an easy, compelling confidence. Welton likes to slow everything right down ('slow' and 'slowly' are two of the most repeated words in the book). The ensuing stillness fosters an attention to subtle physical distinctions, to patterns and repetitions.
In an undergraduate essay from 1865, Gerard Manley Hopkins says that the essential quality of lyric poetry should be considered 'as regularity or likeness tempered by irregularity or difference'. He is picking up on a point made by Coleridge in which the latter stresses the importance of 'lyric repetitions and sublime tautology' before going on to quote the following example: 'At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed there he fell down dead.'
The accumulation of echoes and repetitions builds up to the dramatic impact of that final word. And here is Welton in the poem 'Writing 21', delighting in a lighter, more comic version of the same technique:
What Hannah has, Liat has and what Hannah has
some mornings in the hills in terracotta bowls
is apple-coloured melon halves she eats with glee.
The holes below the hills are full of sleeping bees
and Rafi hovers off alone as sunlight falls,
Liat says, Hannah says. A cloud comes slowly by.
The phrases, the lines, are musically constructed, the repetition subtly building up to the effect of the last short sentence. This is like a relaxed version of Hopkins. Although its insights come through a slowly savoured sensuality rather than through the impact of intense excitement, it still believes that repetition and variation are at the heart of the lyric.
This idea of repetition is carried much further in the second half of the collection, in which a single poem goes through a process of 38 variations and alterations. The reader gets a sense of the immense range of vocabulary that can be employed within a single piece, and part of the pleasure of the sequence is the temptation to try to second guess the variations Welton pursues. The whole thing is a parody of the idea of le mot juste imbued with the influence of Lewis Carroll.
In fact, throughout the book Welton loves to play verbal games that are redolent of Carroll. Various Victorian poetries are continually being sifted through the influence of 20th-century American writers. How about this for a post-Beat take on the opening of Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market':
Vodka, she likes. Whisky also. And plums. And limes.
And lemon-peel. Fried fruit. Dry beans. Deep soup. Warm cream.
Welton's fascination with sly organisations and subtle numerical systems means that at times there can be something a little ornate about his work. Unlike a poet such as Wallace Stevens, who has clearly inspired him a great deal, Welton can lack a sense of roughness, of dissonance. However, his best poems avoid this either through sheer gusto and verbal play ('President Marbles') or through an impressive melancholic restraint, conveyed across long, atmospheric stanzas in which a more intuitive and gentler sense of surprise is allowed to flourish ('Hubba'):
And here at last, alone, we fill our coffee cups
and, standing at the window in the kitchen-lounge,
we find it easier to see how one thing slips
into another, simpler to believe in change,
and difficult to know for sure if what we feel
is autumn coming on or summer at its close.
At night we notice tiny birds circling the hill,
the echo from the road, the wind among the stars.
The Carcanet Blog Let's Gimbal! read more Carcanet New Poetry Showcase: The Audience Writes Back read more John Gallas: A Little Andaluciad read more Carcanet Poetry Showcase: 30th April read more The Manchester Writing Competition 2013 read more Six Sixty-Six: Infinity by Gabriel Josipovici read more
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
This website ©2000-2013 Carcanet Press Ltd