Troy Town
1. A turf labyrinth, constructed for unknown, possibly ritual, purposes
2. A state of pleasant confusion.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Troy Town review: The Stanza

In the Winter 2010 issue of Leicester Poetry Society’s magazine, The Stanza, Charles G Lauder Jr’s review of Troy Town appeared. I really enjoyed reading it, and I’m grateful to Charles for such a thoughtful and perceptive assessment of the book. Here it is.

There is a pulling in Matt Merritt’s Troy Town, between poems about wildlife and those taking you on a tour of the Americas, and poems that lurk indoors, staring out at the world through a closed window, where what is pertinent is off-camera, a point on the horizon of lurking danger or darkness, the decision being whether to look at it straight on.

The opening poem, First Draft, poses that question when a seagull, an unseen landfill tip, and the start of snow are spied in this fashion: “It’s either that or go downstairs / and waste the best of the morning / raking out the ashes of a fortnight.” Hares In December awaits death (“their moment / still months away”), while The Morning Of The Funeral deposits its two stanzas either side of the visit to the crematorium. Curtains and Show, Don’t Tell speak of barriers to prevent the night from breaking in: “After dark, nothing got in or out” and “the night, raw and gaping / hammering, hammering on the skylight.”

It’s as if Merritt is building up courage to will himself out into the world, to take on the Sierras, the Andes, and even Sex After 36:

It’s different. They must have changed the rules
while you were off chasing

other interests…

When history is imagined in the poems, one can’t help but wonder whether we ever left home or are more part of a fevered dream: the fifth century setting of Federati, the seafaring delirium ofCalenture, the delusions of grandeur secession from Australia of Hutt River Province. This reaches its peak in the title poem, which calls to mind not only the historic city, but English turf mazes, and the bewildered state of one’s own mind:

To put aside all thoughts
of dead ends, blind alleys, mental maps.
To put aside all thoughts.
Yet here we are,
on hands and knees again, penitent,
bent on special pleading to whatever
it is lies at the centre, certain only
there’s but one place this is heading.

Given the trips to Tahoe, Cotopaxi, and Hacienda Cusin, we do realise we have gone somewhere, and like the poet in the sonnet Revisited, return to an empty house in the same state as we left it:

The bicycle in pieces on the kitchen floor.
A mess of plastic carriers in the rucksack
on the door. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.

This is a quiet collection of poems, perhaps too quiet at times – purposely silent to hear the planet’s hum (Hummadruz, A Conspiracy Of Stones), or to observe the Paradise Tanagers, Red Knots, Redstarts and other birds wonderfully described throughout the book:

And they’re airborne again,
only now they’re more
a shimmering shoal of sand eels,
dissipated in a second, disappearing momentarily,
a stubborn collective thought of explosive energy.

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