We tend to think of poetry as a dead artform these days. Since the sixties, our poetic heroes have mostly come from the annals of popular music. From the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed to the latest ‘genius de jour’ Alex Turner and the more dubious talents of Pete Doherty.
However, it was poets who were the original bad boy libertines, drunks, opium addicts, incestuous fornicators and devil worshippers, long before rock and roll ever existed. In fact, it would be hard to think of anyone more rock and roll than Shelley or Baudelaire, or indeed Arthur Rimbaud, whose talents and scandalous behaviour peaked in his late teens/early twenties, at which point he gave it all up and went to be a colonial trader in Africa.
Bob Dylan even allegedly changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan in homage to the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
In literary terms, we tend to eschew poetry in favour of the novel, for reasons of narrative, plot and character development, and more importantly, clarity of meaning.
Poetry is a fairly abstract artform, which requires the time and patience not normally commensurate with the time taken to read the actual poem. We must feel our way through a poem, often stumbling blindly at first. It requires our senses to be ruthlessly honed to its ambiguous meanings and difficult exits. Poetry perhaps stands alone among the arts, in its unique ability to convey sadness and loss, the elegiac and the memento-mori. A good poem is a long-savoured delight, and the aftertaste last deep into the night.
Troy Town is Leicestershire poet Matt Merritt’s first book of published poetry, though a previous pamphlet entitled Making The Most Of The Light was published in 2005.
Merritt mixes the ordinary with the extraordinary, the everyday with the out-of-place. The juxtaposition of the rural and the urban are held, not so much as counterpoints to one another, but more to subtly merge and illuminate one another.
The poems of Troy Town are trapped in the half-light, at the points of dusk and dawn. Merritt is able to convey the deepest of sentiments with the quietest of words. There is no hysteria or madness and these are not maudlin poems filled with self-pity. Merritt has a nose for the sublime and opaque nature of the pure moment. He captures those moments in between when life is lived. That space where time and nature, memory and loss, hang suspended and the world offers itself up to us as though for the first time – for the last time. The poems are on the cusp of a netherworld of everything being said and nothing being said, as in The morning of the funeral, when he muses “…A good day for drying / so you’ll peg out early morning / and get stuck into / a few things round the house / before you need to start for the crem…”
Merritt even courageously examines the nature of the poet himself in The Other Kind, where he states: “There are two types of poet…” The first type, “…who wonder if nostalgia / is everything it once was, remember / when and where that thought first occurred / and won’t let you forget it…”; Merritt is the other kind, “who can’t imagine the intruder who / arrives once a flood to drink their wine, / warm their bed and leave only the lightest / trace all over the notebook and laptop”
Like a wooden horse, Merritt’s poetry surreptitiously creeps into the subconscious to unleash its more difficult conclusions on the human condition.
Baudelaire stated that the flaneur was a botanist of the streets. For me, the poet Matt Merritt is a great chronicler of the undergrowth.
The Leicestershire Magazine, Autumn 2008