Poetry Review: 21:08:19
by Matt Duggan
Our reviewer finds this collection a challenging but satisfying read.
At first glance the cover of Matt Duggan’s Woodworm seems to show a slightly dingy picture of the poet shot against a Manhattan skyline. This is misleading, for whether the background is Manhattan or not, the work itself is very much set against a backdrop of a rather rough hewn Britain. Also, we discover, from the glasses that accompany the book, the picture is actually in 3D. An intended metaphor perhaps?
Matt’s poetry comes at you with powerful immediacy. Metal spikes made from blue glass and silver runs the opening line, and in truth, it’s a jagged, uneven experience to read. The poems reference harsh living (indeed, that opening line goes on to reveal preparations made by corporations to deter the homeless), drug use, low paid employment and a deeply ingrained dislike of Conservative values.
Yet it also references foxes playing on a neighbour’s lawn at midnight, the coming of winter, the autumn moon, diving kingfishers. Here he’s at his passionate best. In 'The Hunger', a lament at the replacement of wildlife and greenery with concrete and drones, he tells us, Stomach is brimming/tight muscles can’t clench wilderness not reached - .
Urban landscapes and accompanying commentary on the life they harbour form the bulk of this collection. Duggan presents his ideas and thoughts in raw, tightly controlled language which gives us an immediate feel for his upbringing, environment and his perceived place in the class structure: his poetry makes it clear he grew up with none of the advantages of a moneyed, privileged education. In 'An Introduction to the English Class System' we see him come up against some boys from a different school (Not dissimilar to Hogwarts)/ I’d imagined them playing chess - sipping lavender tea/plotting how they were going to destroy the working class, while in the ensuing 'The Plight of the Working Class' we see a working man drilling through the lies told by the right-wing press, yet reaping only scorn for and from his workmates at his realisations. His work colleagues are now very different strangers/that he feels it’s like drinking salt with fat sweaty slugs. These are the outpourings of a man who cannot fit comfortably into any social class and feels deep dissatisfaction and, on occasion, contempt, for those that do. Sometimes the verse bursts forth to grab your attention ('Iron Children', or the tremendous 'Poem for Thomas', indubitably the finest in the collection); sometimes it can seem unpolished, doubtless deliberately so. I like him best when he’s angry (A worker sits at the bar hiding his expletives under a gingham dressed basket of triple cooked chips); filled with wonder (Behind veins of dark tubes our voices move towards the moon’s time dial) or passionate (If I’m the last remains of cliff face you surely must be the sea). On other occasions, when his empathy's at a low ebb his work can appear a little sententious.
But turn to the next piece to find something fresh, imaginative, admirable. He references Coleridge, Chatterton, the goddesses Artemis and Adicia, and Yggdrasil, the tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse mythology, all in intriguing, insightful ways. He’s no coffee table read, or polished Peter Porter, but if you are looking for something with texture, something with a willingness to step beyond comfortable, pretty subject matter, this work will undoubtedly speak to you.
Review: Melissa Todd.
Matt Duggan – Wormwood