No mention of Noel Edmonds, I promise.
About this time last year, I came across a website called the Poetry Super Highway Great Poetry Exchange. The idea, like all the best ones, is dead simple. You pledge to send your poetry book, publication, or recording to another randomly selected participant, and in exchange, receive a book or recording, randomly selected from the list of participants. Last year, 137 poets took part.
Anyway, I duly sent my own chapbook off, to Memphis, Tennessee, I think, and waited. Very quickly a package arrived, from Omaha, Nebraska, from a poet called Matt Mason.
His chapbook, When The Bough Breaks, deals with the death from AIDS of his father, a man who had refused to sell his John Deere dealership because to do so would have put his employees out of work. Now at first sight, I was a bit daunted, I suppose because it looked like it might be heavy going. Don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly not saying that all poetry has to be accessible, or shy away from the darker side of life – just that, at 9.30 on a hungover Saturday morning, I wasn’t immediately grabbed by what I saw.
Never judge a book, and all that. In fact, after thinking I might skim through it over a cup of tea, I read it straight through, and I’ve since re-read it several times.
It’s great, in short. The poems are, for the most part, elegies, but as well as the memory, emotion and tenderness that you might expect to find, there's also bags of imagination and above all an honesty that makes it as affecting a book as I've read in a long time. Long lines and a conversational tone are used throughout, but these are beautifully crafted pieces.
I thought I'd post one - it's hard to pick out a favourite, so I just went for one of the shorter poems, my typing not being what it was.
THE LAST AND LONGEST CONVERSATION
The last and longest conversation
I had with Dad
came while he lay
comatose on a hospital bed.
I hope, like in movies
or Elizabeth Kubler Ross, that he sat, a spirit
in the corner of the ceiling,
listening, wishing he
could squeeze my hand
and say, I love you too.
I wonder if he was always like that:
listening from a corner,
always unable to move
and appear moved.
Later last year, Matt brought out a full poetry collection, Things We Don't Know We Don't Know. It's equally excellent, although the subject matter ranges a lot more widely, from sceptical looks at the 'War on Terror' to paeans to swedes and kiwifruit. And there are plenty of fine love poems - here's one:
There are some kisses you will not forget.
You will be able to recall perfectly
the strain in your left thigh
from sitting that way to face her across the couch.
You could be standing in a McDonald's somewhere
and still picture the dimness, a little light from her kitchen
in a rectangle over on the floor, the triangles
in the yellow quilt over her legs,
her closed eyes, the slouch of her head.
When more than her whole body responds, you
have done something irreparable.
Anyway, all that remains to be said is to give the Poetry Exchange a try. At worst, your poems spread their wings over pastures new, and you get to try something different. At best, you get really lucky.