Tag Archives: Matt Bryden poet

Matt Bryden’s Night Porter

Matt Bryden

Born and raised in Beckenham, Matt Bryden is an EFL teacher whose work has taken him to Tuscany, the Czech Republic and Poland. His poems have appeared in Stand, Poetry Wales and The Warwick Review among others. His pamphlet Night Porter was one of the winners of the Templar Pamphlet and Collection Prize 2010. Boxing the Compass, his first full collection, follows in 2011, also with Templar.

Stemming from Matt Bryden’s experience working in a Yorkshire hotel, Night Porter portrays life in the small hours among guests and staff, a life that steadily becomes more about witnessing the lives of others than the speaker’s own. With each new glimpse into the interrelationships at the hotel, the mood deepens with new emotional tensions and an overriding sense of alienation, and creates a compellingly layered portrait of ordinary lives.
I turn off the outside lights
and slip on Easy Classics,
roll circular tables –
wagon wheels at chin height –
into the dead hollow under the stairs.
I place the toast under the grill,
pour milk into a jug, slice grapefruit,
load the tray and balance its weight.
I prop the papers against the doors,
smell the cologne, hear the pour
of the showers.
Seven-fifteen, eight hours on,
I stand suitcases by the coach. The light
is thick as the smoke from burning leaves.
The entire dining room glows.
Two gantries re-warm sausages, eggs.
Three months in, I ask for some breakfast.
He whistles
to the three Dutch girls
hovering down the road,
and I watch them pour
inside, hushed and uncertain.
One is blonder and taller
than the others. I recognise
them as housekeeping,
around seventeen.
‘Anke, Karin and Maria,’ Simon says.
I move them out of sight, into the bar.
I nod. I don’t know how to use the till,
or even the cost of drinks.
They hand me a grab of change.
In the half-light they sit and talk quietly.
The slight, brown-haired girl drinks a juice on her own.
‘Anne told me she checks all these cameras,’ I tell them.
They drink up. I see them out, watch
them cross the road.
I allowed the barman’s mopped floor
five more minutes to dry, let Lucy slip to the Ladies
to change into her jeans.
The chef bid me adieu
through his crash helmet, prime steak packed
under his leathers.
Then I bolted the doors and locked them out.
I walked along the racecourse
to reach the hotel. At times, it was illuminated
by funfair, circus tent, a dance
and dinner at the grandstand, but most often nothing.
The public could still graze animals, but
since foot and mouth the horses had gone –
sheep grazed too close.
Some mornings, wreaths lay covered in dew
or frozen to the steps where the gallows
had stood, the ink of the dedications rewet.
I crossed the road
and went up the rise.
Walking home, I passed the newsagent’s
before the paperboy could overtake me on his cycle.
I let myself in, filled the kettle,
closed the curtains, waited for post.
When I drew them, the lawn
could be damp with dawn or dusk.
Hoovering, filling jugs with water and juice,
laying red velvet table cloths,
loading fresh paper onto the easels.
Ascertaining which guests are in
and which to expect, their keys
hanging from hooks.
Checking the toilets, the back door,
patrolling the halls’ creaky landings,
looking down onto the lounge,
the armchairs
before the fire with ash
to be brushed off the arms.
Assessing the dining rooms –
glasses to be washed, cutlery laid,
food cleared from beneath tables.
Spelling the names of expected parties
on the board, in gold plastic letters.
The woman I showed around
a quick tour one Sunday
the Albemarle and Mural rooms.
The women I befriended
before overstepping the mark:
‘No, stay,’ I asked as they made to retire.
The woman I made laugh
after she asked me the size
of the sausage rolls.
The woman who asked for details
of the mural, then turned to her partner –
‘He doesn’t know.’
The tipsy woman – ‘Haven’t we met?’ –
who had interviewed me
for a librarianship the month before.
The ex-night porter from Chicago
who offered me drinks, saying,
‘I’ve been there, it’s a terrible job.’
The two men with a woman
who, as I complained about the noise,
beckoned me into their room.
School Party
Already, one of the boys has been to hospital,
a bag of sweet-corn from the kitchen
draped over his ankle.
A teacher assists him up the grand staircase
to his room and calls, ‘Lights out!’
I go to vacuum the conference room.
As I cross the lounge
a boy on the balcony freezes
as if caught in a searchlight.
The full hotel is like a dovecote –
cooing and adjusting and shuffling in the straw.
I feel the need to oversee my charges.
I fill jugs with water and juice,
lay red velvet table cloths,
load fresh paper onto the easels.
Glass shatters and the lawn is sprinkled
with yellow kernels. I take the stairs
to a doorway crammed with bodies.
Downstairs, the boy, bag of sweet-corn gone,
sits with his head in his hands
as the teacher phones his mother.
I go for a bag of peas.
from Night Porter (Templar Poetry, 2010)
Order Night Porter.
Launch details
The London launch for three pamphlets: Matt Bryden’s prizewinning pamphlet, Night Porter (Templar); Claire Crowther’s Mollicle (Nine Arches); and Carrie Etter’s Divinations (Punch Press).
Wednesday, December 1 · 7:30pm – 9:30pm
The Lamb
94 Lambs Conduit Street
London, United Kingdom

Matt Bryden: Six Poems

Matt Bryden

Born and raised in Beckenham, Matt Bryden is an EFL teacher whose work has taken him to Tuscany, the Czech Republic and Poland. His poems have appeared in New Welsh Review, The Reader and The Warwick Review among others. His pamphlet, Night Porter, was one of the winners of the Templar pamphlet competition 2010, and will be published in November. Boxing the Compass, his first full collection, follows in 2011, also with Templar.

A new face at half six.
I was manning Reception
when he came through the doors.
On a couch he told me about the kitchens
in Scotland. His uncleaned teeth
smelt earthy as sweat.
‘I came to England to get a break. That’s a joke.’
He showed me bank statements
of when he was £10,000 in the black.
First published in Seam.
Should the People But Come Above Ground
In Quebec, the snow-clearing machines are known
as hiders, the packed ice compacted into bricks
and stacked at the side of the road.
In the morning, the streets are clear.
In the underground malls, high ceilings
approximate sky; hats are worn.
Because of the cost of lighting each subterranean city,
ice is translated into power
through a system of hydro-electric mills.
Steam, a by-product, hangs in the air,
making it impossible for insects to fly.
Butterflies and moths move entirely on land.
Due to the absence of public parks, dogs
are a rare sight below ground. Above, caged sections
are allocated; their etiquette is pronounced.
Butterfly cages the size of basketball courts
occupy a square in each district, as pristine in the light
as the rows of empty ropes in the schools’ unused gyms.
Below, fountains flicker with thin blue strips of silk,
blown into movement by air currents.
In an atmosphere so heavily permeated with water,
water itself does not flow.
A cup of tea, while warming above ground,
can chap the skin of an ungloved hand beneath.
For this reason only warmed apple juice
with cinammon is served.
Each Canadian souterraine will tell you,
in her icy Quebecois, that men are available
should one only take a look. They joke,
‘Not one of us would say winter is our favourite season.’
The streets empty, the city is art.
The nightcleaners hose the base
of the butterfly enclosure through wire mesh,
scourge the chalky residue.
The underground populace thrive.
A nightcleaner kids himself
that his foot feels the faintest thrum,
a cricket’s fibrillation in a sound-box, from below.
First published in Magma.
If People Think
this Czech girl is weak
because she keeps her own counsel,
they don’t factor quite
how tough it is to be that quiet.
Everyone wants your contribution.
She chooses London
over returning to her mother’s home –
a timber-frame construction
near a forest,
her sister across the hall.
Her money gone,
she resorts to the word
of an older man with keys
to a car and a flat in Edinburgh
and escapes a month later,
the split ends of her hair
dropping below a bruised shoulder.
After class, she catches herself
turning her chair onto the table, and laughs.
First published in Smiths Knoll.
The Night Sky
Who brings these star- and crescent-
shaped pastries, each filled with vanilla
or jam, to my bed each morning?
Such nursery shapes are clearly beneficent,
like knowing which berries are sour
and which are ripe by sight.
I stare past my desk to the window
and wipe my dreams like a slate.
First published in The Warwick Review.
Over There
As you urinate, or bathe, a blur
against the glass.
The bubble bath, never lush, thinned to air
we see each other just by looking down.
I cover your mouth.
Your desk is propped
against the scrape
of butter across toast in the mornings;
evenings, the lift pulley sounds in your bricks.
I can’t sleep for being hugged and held,
folded against.
I rise, shower an alertness and am gone.
Always the promise of closeness.
Cold streets, shared meals.
I talk until I realise I don’t have to.
Rock until our legs fall in place.
First published in Orange Coast Review.
An exhibition match at Beckenham Public Hall;
you lent your arm out of a fondness for the locale
and familiarity with his name in the Embassy final.
Down there, on the floor, the fall-out
of your recent breakup didn’t register.
Attempted reconciliations after nightfall,
rushing home to neck fistfuls of Kalms – all this
evaporated with the first hit. Jimmy split
the pack. You took it slow; lined that red up till
it was almost gone, it had to go.
‘Can you put our pocket back please, Jon,’ cracked the emcee.
The crowd were rigidly attentive of that slab of green
from their place in the hard seats. And you were on the black now.
Another red sank. From Jimmy: ‘You know it’s winner
stays on?’ Applause. And in that pit,
you wiped your blade at twenty-six.
Jimmy didn’t give you another sniff.
He kept you off the table
and gave you his chalk by way of memento
on the way back up to your seat.
It rankled not to get back in the game.
And that, Jon, was the mending of you.
First published in New Welsh Review.  
Visit Matt’s blog.
Visit Matt’s Templar Poetry page.