Friday, 23 October 2009

Sounds in the Grass, by Matt Nunn

Nine Arches Press, 2009

All passions spring from the same well, they say, but the great joy of Matt Nunn’s poetry is that in it, all passions seem to exist in the same place, simultaneously.

So, he doesn’t slip from raging storm to dead calm via all points in-between – instead, they’re never more than a heartbeat apart, meaning that while his poetry is rarely less than very funny, it’s also satisfyingly true to the peaks and troughs of human consciousness.

This effect is achieved partly by his use of seemingly runaway but actually beautifully controlled long lines, and the sheer relish with which he uses language. It occasionally reminded me of 1980s-era Peter Reading, or what Mark E Smith might have sounded like had he ditched The Fall and moved to West Bromwich, but such comparisons really don't do it any justice (although on the latter, Nunn does write a lot, and well, about music).

It also means that the poetry on the page is an accurate transcription of what you get if you hear Nunn read it, machine-gun delivery and all. There’s very little lost in translation, and that’s a pretty hard trick for a poet of any ilk to pull off.

So where do we start? Well, the beginning’s as good a place as any, and frankly there’s more wit, invention and innovation in the list of titles than a lot of us manage in a whole book.

From there, Nunn gets stuck straight into some of his major concerns, with What’s it about? kickstarting an ongoing debate about the tension between observing and documenting society as a poet, and the need to remain engaged within that society, as well as exploring society’s response to anything deemed intellectual. Try this, for starters:

So I, swarming with the visceral truth of sunrise
and extreme eggheadness,

told him I’d come to the park to float amongst strange congregations,
to measure the faith in the lush abundance of chirping Dickies
and the toning-up of morning

before later getting hooched-up on the taste of warring factions
then banging a dog dead to feel
the glorious buffoon buzz of a pointless thrill,

just to work out if I prefer it more
to this crap lark of gawping at cor blimey spectral vistas of beauty.

It’s a theme that runs through the collection, and Nunn doesn’t offer any easy answers, It’s an awful lot of fun, though, running through the questions with him.

He’s quite capable of changing the pace when he needs to, and another thread that emerges is the occasional snatching of peace and even joy from out of the urban landscape (in fact, that’s becoming something of a unifying characteristic with Nine Arches poets). Early on, there are the lines “In our little bit of lovely we don’t get do-lally / searching for the blessing of silence. / It is all around us. It is in us.” There’s a bruised but clear-eyed romanticism at work there, and it sets off the more in-your-face pieces superbly.

I’ll admit to being swayed in my praise for this book by the fact the poet keeps celebrating some of my favourite things – Two Tone, the late Grant McLennan of Aussie band The Go-Betweens, the M50 (Britain’s quietest motorway) and even the word “flobbed”, which I thought was long gone into the obscurity of the 80s but which re-emerges in the glorious Long Mynd, New Year’s Day. And while I’m at it, let me quote that last one in its entirety.

No, there ain’t no god to fix us,

so we drift, chewed up and flobbed out
from between the jaw-line of battering weather
and flaming expletives swirling abusively
down from the angry Black Mountains,
pausing only to pull moonies into the void
and for you to sprinkle erratically,

until we trip over ourselves, kiss
the high sky of sheep and fall
onto our muck-splattered throne
to feel our bonces, gone rotten with booze,
blast off over the valley

and watch cloud moods clear smoothly, daubing
oozes of sun onto people awakening
to the fabulous shades of hope gathering.

This could be a fucking brilliant year.

Come on – what’s not to like about that? It encapsulates all that makes Nunn’s poetry unique, and it’s a lot of fun to read aloud.

This book sees the poet reaching out into new territory, I think, in terms of both subject matter and style, but it remains as individual, and as enjoyable, a collection as you're likely to read this year. Just remember that you're likely to need to engage all areas of your brain...


Alan Baker said...

I'd buy this book on the strength of the extracts you qoute here. I can imagine that hearing them read aloud would be entertaining. It reminds me slightly of Martin Stannard's poetry.


Matt Merritt said...

Yes, there is something a bit Stannard-like about it at times, Alan. I think the word 'surreal' gets overused in poetry criticism these days, but it could fairly be used here (and with Stannard).

I can't recommend it highly enough, though.