Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Book Corner (1): Troy Town by Matt Merritt

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford, viewed from the Willow Cabin Arbour
(the maze is to the left, along the path and out of sight)

'Never too late to learn to trust the path
like rustics running the shepherd's race

at May Eve...'

Troy Town, Matt Merritt

'The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
For lack of tread, are indistinguishable.'

A Midsummer Night's Dream, II:II, Shakespeare

Troy Town by Matt Merritt, Arrowhead Press 2008, ISBN 978-1-904852-19-3

I wonder what images dance in your mind in response to Matt's evocative title, Troy Town. I have just finished reading this sparkling new collection and felt it would be good to share a few thoughts. Matt, a fellow blogger (at Polyolbion) and fellow graduate of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, has woven his thread, Theseus fashion, through the labyrinthine paths of landscape, love and loss.

Those who know Matt will not be surprised to encounter a barn owl buoyant on his tide of silence ('Skylarking'), the blackbird wrestling a worm out of the lawn ('Paradise Tanager') or Calidris canutus, king's men all, commanding the waves to turn back ('Knots') along the way; but birdsong is only one of many tunes - or half-remembered songs - that echo through and take flight from the pages of this book.

The volume has been beautifully produced, with a hard cover sporting a glossy photograph of the turf maze at Wing in Rutland on the dust jacket. Troy Town is prefaced with a quotation from A Midsummer Night's Dream (see above); and Matt's poem that lends its title to the whole collection suggests to this reader at least, that the essence of the work revolves, maze-fashion, around a movement from one place to another. This progression - in accordance with the nature of propulsion through a maze - is seldom linear. The quest takes the poet and his fellow travellers on what seems, perhaps, to be more of a metaphysical than a metaphorical journey, since all mental maps are redundant and all thoughts are put aside. We do not usually associate mazes with unfolding vistas of revelation, but Alison Brackenbury made the astute observation that somehow this work 'opens new horizons'.

This reader views the essence of Matt's poetry against the backcloth of his association with Poly-Olbion, the meandering epic of the landscape by Michael Drayton (1563-1631). Drayton's lines lead us along the highways and byways of a very different England. Drayton is long dead, but poetry - Matt's poetry - refuses to be moulded into dark places or squeezed into the cul-de-sacs of a maze.

Buy a copy to experience for yourself that canvas where moments fray to a fine thread, that place where the past is startled into a sudden eloquence so that nothing need follow.

Suggested reading:
Making the Most of the Light by Matt Merritt, HappenStance 2005


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Matt Merritt said...

Thanks very much for a very kind and perceptive review, Caroline. I'm much obliged.