Tag Archives: Matt Merritt poet

Matt Merritt’s The Elephant Tests

Matt Merritt 
 
 
 
Matt Merritt was born in Leicester in 1969, and lives in Whitwick. His debut chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, was published by Happenstance in 2005, and full collections have been Troy Town (Arrowhead, 2008) and hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica (Nine Arches Press, 2010). He reviews for Magma, New Walk, Under the Radar and Sphinx. He studied history at Newcastle University, and works as the editor for Bird Watching magazine. He is the editor of Poets on Fire, and blogs at http://polyolbion.blogspot.com.
 
 
 
 
The Elephant Tests 
  
 

 
The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches Press, 2013), the third collection of poems from Matt Merritt, takes sheer delight in the full possibilities of language in this study of birds and natural history, travel, personal and universal memory, and even of the occasional elephant too. In the process, it captures the quiet wonder of the fleeting moments that amaze, puzzle and trouble us.

Eco-poetry and exploration are met perfectly with myths and epiphanies; the wide, wild world outside is precisely spoken for, just a moment before taking flight or merging into dusk. This is poetry unafraid of new territories; Matt Merritt pushes out the boundaries of each poem without ever once losing the humour, grace and gentle melancholy at their heart.”
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“A poet’s talent follows no maps. Insight, rueful humour and a perfectly tuned ear make Matt Merritt’s The Elephant Tests an exceptional collection, whose poems absorb and startle. Here are elephants, benign or brooding, hares, ‘sharp against the last sun’, humans, who ‘lie and wait for the ceiling rose to bloom’, birds, imagined and real: ‘Rain bird (see also yarrow, yappingale, yaffle)’. Each poem reveals its own richness: ‘and the last thing you see / will be the last thing you ever expected’.”

– Alison Brackenbury
 
 
 
“I’ve become a pretty ardent Matt Merritt fan in recent years. A more observant and articulate poet is hard to imagine. The Elephant Tests is at least as strong as its two predecessors, whilst also being thematically and stylistically his most ambitious and varied book to date.”

– Rory Waterman
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Ganesha
 
 
He’s gazed at the fanlight since the day
I took possession, god of the mantelpiece
and cold open grate. One fixed point
in an ever-changing pantheon

of ballots and bills, letters expecting no reply,
clusters of keepsakes long since shucked
of their carapace of context and meaning.
His trunk snakes left to take a proffered sweetmeat
(we’re united in disdain for the virtues of self-denial).
Unwitting recipient of every prayer for easy living,

I catch him, aloof and golden in the sunrise.
Later, by lamplight, he dances alone
in the shadows of possibility to the tune
of his thousand names, each one an increment
between vighnakartã and vignahartã,
creator and remover of every obstacle.

He greets each suspiciously-familiar tomorrow
with the same open hand,
ready to welcome good fortune
when it finds its way up the garden path
and swings the old door wide on slow hinges.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Svalbard
 
 
Long, close August. We sleep with the window open to the street, wait for promised storms to cut the bullying heat back down to size. Cars clatter over sleeping policemen. Ambulances draw up at the nursing home, unhurriedly. Sometimes, we catch the cries of foxes in the cemetery, the ghost-written call and response of owls. And now wake to sounds, distant and rhythmic, I take for a flock of Canada Geese, migrating; a thing unheard of this side of the Atlantic. Only after several minutes does it become apparent, they’re next door in our neighbour’s bedroom. We lie, and wait for the ceiling rose to bloom, a sound widening between us in the cold ocean of the sheets, wondering if maybe it’s the man we’ve seen painting her front door and carrying flat-packs in from the car, listening as a tailwind takes them faster and higher, out over the flow country, Cape Wrath, the firths, calling to maintain contact across the wide North Sea, descending now to Svalbard, the mountains bright with meltwater, the tundra with saxifrage, crowberry, bell-heather, in the 3a.m. sunlight of the Arctic summer.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Patsy Parisi’s Blues
 
 
It won’t be cinematic. No camera will linger
over meaningful glances cast in anticipation
of epiphanous plot developments. No tracking shot
will follow your elegantly curved trajectory

through a perfect simulacrum of the old neighbourhood.
The light will always be harsh enough to pick out
your every scar and blemish, or else so low
as to stubbornly refuse a clear view

of your most private face. Music will fail to rise
to the occasion, emotion will be left to sing
itself, low but incessant as the hum of power cables
strung across scrap-sown hinterlands.

Above all, the next lines will refuse to write themselves,
the unrehearsed words of snatched conversations will betray
all of your best intentions, and the last thing you see
will be the last thing you ever expected.
 
 
 
 
Note: The line “It won’t be cinematic” is spoken by the character Patsy Parisi in the TV series The Sopranos. A rather mild, scholarly-looking ‘foot-soldier’, he uses it while assuring another character, Gloria Trillo, of her fate should she fail to co-operate.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Red Centre Blues
 
 
There is no middle of nowhere
here. It’s everywhere, starting no more
than a couple of hundred yards
beyond the last house, mile on mile

of parched bush and an earth-tone
that’s all that allows the brain to take in
the panache of colour, the enormous light.
And you walked, one crackling dusk,

playing the past out behind you,
a frayed line strung with the lights
of the bottle store and car wash, cheap motels
and the last fuel for 300K. You walked

until the town was no more
than the embers of last month’s wildfire,
and the night multiplied to an unbroken smear
of hopelessly distant probabilities.

You’d dreamed of standing on the edge
of tomorrow, watching it appear over the hill
like an army come to lift a long siege
yet it seemed impossible it would ever find you

amid such relentless space, so you walked
yourself past weary and the last
scattered outliers of exhaustion, walked
yourself to dust, until the unblinking sun shone

straight through you and the insistent iamb
of your gait was all that reminded you
you were still here. You walked back
to a bare room, the possibility of sleep, and

woke up this morning.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Always
 
 
Memory abhors a vacuum. It seeds a coarse grass
between every bloom, floods the misty fen
around each steepling moment, spools
and loops to fill the gaps corrupted by routine.

Walking high on the forest one frozen dusk
with friends from school, our dazed delight
at the dash of a hare sharp against the last sun, two snipe
exploding from the ground beneath our feet.

And every occasional – no, worse, each single shining
instance like this – clones to a fond, false permanence
even as it disappears beyond us. One friend is dead now,
the other long since drifted from this close orbit,

hare and snipe are entries in a book, but still we’d say
it was always this way. The mind can’t carry
all that’s offered down from the summit, or if it can,
can’t believe it. Maybe this happened again and again,

maybe just that once. We can live by such uncertainty.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Seeing The Elephant
 
 
Each night the world ends, weathered and threadbare,
but by morning is replaced by a perfect facsimile.

Far from creeping intimations of mortality, each of us
wakes to undeniable evidence of our own continued existence.

From this heady vantage, the mountains are like the stars:
close enough to reach out and touch, or else

uncountable miles away. A few claim glimpses,
and all suppose him somewhere in the vicinity,

though not a one can supply a convincing likeness,
explain exactly what we’re looking for.

And since forgetting is so much of what we are,
sometimes we can live the way we did before

we wandered into his territory, but remembering
is his second nature. Do not imagine kindness

in those lazy lashed eyes, or see them as too small
to notice your every move. Beneath that dome

of weathered granite is a record of every bullet
you ever left under your own thin hide

and an estimate of how long it will take
to work its way to your heart.

You still don’t know what the elephant looks like,
but today looks a lot like the elephant.
 
 
 
 
Note: The phrase “seeing the elephant” was used in the USA in the 19th century, particularly by pioneers making the wagon-train journey across the Great Plains (although Civil War soldiers also used it about their first taste of combat). It carries more than a hint of ambiguity – the people concerned wanted to see the elephant, and were convinced that it was a potentially life-changing experience, but generally ended up at least a little disappointed and disillusioned.
 
 
 
 
from The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches Press, 2013).

Order The Elephant Tests here or here.

Visit Matt’s blog, Polyolbion.
 
Read ‘Chirimoya’ and ‘The elephant in the room’
at Ink, Sweat and Tears.
 
 
 
 
*

Matt Merritt’s hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica

Matt Merritt

  
 
Matt Merritt was born in Leicester in 1969. He studied history at Newcastle University, and has worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist in Cardiff, Leicester and Peterborough. He currently works for Bird Watching magazine, and lives near Leicester. His chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, was published by HappenStance Press in October 2005. Troy Town, his first collection, was published by Arrowhead Press in 2008. His second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is published by Nine Arches Press.
 
 
 

   
 
Matt Merritt’s second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is alive with a rare frequency all of its own – it is a precise and rewarding music for the soul, the heart, and the head.
 
These are poems that take a distinctive route through landscapes rich with legend and wildlife, finding elegies written in the night sky on the way home from the pub, or quiet epics raging in the pages of memories and neglected histories. Matt Merritt has an ear for the exact notes, be they in a major or a minor key, and these gently insistent poems continue to resound long after their first reading.
 
 
 
Praise for hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica:
 
 
“In Matt Merritt’s finely honed new collection, lives are lived in liminal spaces, shadow selves are reconstructing history and time is no time at all. These are quick-witted poems, made of toughened glass and ground-down clocks.”
 
– Helen Ivory
 
 
 
“Matt Merritt’s new book is a cracker – technically adventurous and thematically cohesive. His work is based on a close attention to the world and a scrupulous approach to getting that world into verse. His subject is landscape, the rural and urban landscapes of the Midlands, which he uses as a cipher to talk about personal and community life. We see the surfaces of the contemporary, but also the deep presence of the historical poking through – the planning of new towns and the persistence of floodplains. This is the psychogeography of modern Leicestershire. Reading these poems I felt my own consciousness calming and concentrating – which is as good a way as any of saying that they are beautiful.”
 
– Tony Williams
 
 
 
 
Birdsong
 
This evening, a call I don’t know,
and will never know, perhaps, drowning
the lisp and whisper of goldcrests
at the edge of the new plantation.
 
Something hard, metallic, insistent,
but quite distinct from the blackbird,
hammering chinks of light from the dusk
to ward off darkness at this time each night.
 
Across the street, somebody is yelling
you don’t listen. You never listen,
a door’s half-heartedly slammed,
and a car radio plays to no one,
 
but still the unseen bird sings on,
that urgency pitched above
and beyond the background clutter.
Its only sense is now. Is this. Is gone.
 
 
 
 
The Ends Of The Earth
 
for S.M.
 
 
i
 
At first sight
 
          a ruin, a menhir, a town, a harbour.
Arrive behind the grey tide of dusk,
pale local stone still softly luminous
with the heat and glare of the day,
this whole scene almost monochrome
but the scent a vivid green, guttering streetlamps
igniting moths on their way to the moon.
 
 
ii
 
Woken at four by the singing
of unfamiliar birds, or the farm dogs startled
by the passing of some solitary creature,
 
hunting or hunted.
 
 
iii
 
Everything moves by night. Up and out
before the lark                  before anything
with the sky only just thinning and coloring
 
a slow warming
like a black and white TV set
 
the hillsides almost bare                but look
they’re spackled with pebbles
 
a scatter of sparrows here
and there                two wheatears
listening for what
 
(I don’t know what)
 
still                        a ring ouzel
struggling to swallow
a crescent of daylight moon.
 
 
iv
 
Eight miles out before the sun
fizzes above the rim. Each smudge of colour
trails its own festoon of gulls. Others spiral higher,
higher, until the sky heals over them, and you
screw your eyes up against the spray
and dazzle of it all.
 
 
v
 
ophiussa
          promontorium sacrum
                                       finisterre
                                                   land’s end
                                                                        a life beyond
words
 
 
vi
 
New-minted day behind us,
          plunged towards the quench
                    of the unmapped ocean
showering terns everywhere.
 
Everything still unsaid.
 
 
 
 
Warning Against Using These Poems As A Map
 
No scale is provided.
You are being left
to guess the exact distance
 
between what’s said
and what was,
between a mere projection
 
onto the flat page
and a curved plane,
constantly in motion,
 
spinning through nothingness.
You are your own key.
Assign the appropriate value
 
to each symbol, and allow
the wide white spaces
to fill up with invisibles,
 
bloom with the language
of implication. Wait
for the words to accumulate
 
the sediment of meaning.
 
 
 
 
Happiness
 
Not the sparrowhawk’s dash
to catch it, unwary,
and snatch it from
out of the everyday
 
or the cormorant’s
relentless pursuit of what flashes
gleaming and silvered
somewhere in the murk
 
but the sparrow, oblivious,
caught up in the business
of being. Only
the smallest troubling
 
of the fugged, flickering air
between two doors leading
to one idea
of the dark.
 
 
 
 
from hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica (Nine Arches Press, 2010)
 
Order hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.
 
Visit Matt’s blog, Polyolbion.
 
 
Launch details
 
Sunday 21st November 2010 from 7pm onwards
At Jam Cafe, 12 Heathcote Street, Nottingham NG1 3AA
 
Free entry. Sign up for open mic on the door.
 
Nottingham Shindig! and the launch of Matt Merritt’s
second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.
 
Join us for open mic readings and special guest poets
Robin Vaughan-Williams, Matt Merritt, David Morley
and Sarah Jackson.
 
Co-hosted by LeftLion Magazine and kindly sponsored by
Writing East Midlands.

Matt Merritt’s Troy Town

Matt Merritt

  
Matt Merritt was born in Leicester in 1969. He studied history at Newcastle University, and has worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist in Cardiff, Leicester and Peterborough. He currently works for Bird Watching magazine, and lives near Leicester. His chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, was published by HappenStance Press in October 2005, and a new collection, Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is forthcoming from Nine Arches Press in November 2010.
 
 

 
 
Troy Town (Arrowhead Press, 2008)
 
“The past is startled into a sudden eloquence”.
 
Matt Merritt’s poems are startling. Their voice is quiet, their rhymes discreet, but a loch reveals a submarine; a sky, a sudden bird; a landscape, love. This book’s familiars are birds, about which Matt Merritt writes beautifully. The poems are also brushed by the wings of loss, lit by jokes, eloquent with hope.
 
     Sudden rain now.
     Liquid miles, but hours yet to harden into day.
     The way it always is.
     Remember this.
 
This work is memorable for the best reasons. Without hectoring, it reminds us of what we know. Irresistibly, it opens new horizons. The reader does not want a poem to end, but when it must, the reward is insight, the exact observation which is love.
 
Troy Town is humorous, wise, and clear-eyed. These are poems for grown-ups, to which a reader will return, with pleasure and surprise, again and again.”
 
– Alison Brackenbury
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
At Home
 
Window open to the smell of rajma makhai,
wet leaves, the smoke of suburban bonfires,
the roar that rises and fades like a through train
 
from the black hole of the stadium a mile away.
Spires, cranes, constellations and all light are swallowed
to be spat out God knows where, and the link road
 
from the motorway is a strand of spaghetti
sucked in slowly. Once you defied gravity
with velocity unthinkable now, broke that orbit
 
but stopped to toast your own escape.
At this distance, dragged back from the limit
you’re thinking, too much, too soon. No one’s safe.
 
 
 
The Meeting Place
 
“…within us, balanced like a gyroscope, is joy.”
Tomas Transtromer
  
  
Nothing leads up to it.
No sudden voltage, a whiff of ionized ozone mingling
with diesel, damp cardboard and out of date fruit.
Traffic lights maintain their sequence,
 
diaries continue to get written
in lamplit bedrooms glimpsed from near-empty
top decks. Timetables are still met. But she is there
at the junction of all things, and at once
 
the better part of you is persuaded
out of balance. Moments fray to a fine thread.
The past is startled into a sudden eloquence.
Nothing need follow.
 
 
 
Knots
 
Only now does it occur to me
as something unseen, maybe a dog in the dunes
beyond (although in the poem it will be a peregrine,
probably) unravels a tangle of them near the outflow.
There is one sharp salvo of low-pitched cries –
knut, knut, knut –
then they spiral like smoke to heaven,
first black as a cloud of summer gnats, now silvered
as the foil they used to fool radar,
to collect themselves again
in the tranquility of the sandbar.
                                            And stand
                                                     Calidris canutus,
king’s men all, commanding the waves to turn back
or else making a point completely lost on history
(though the great Dane’s fondness for them
was purely culinary). Their beaks pushed
into wet mud create a pressure wave,
reflected back and detected by a sensitive layer
at the end of the bill, so any objects larger
than a grain of salt show up like a submarine on sonar.
And they’re airborne again,
                                    only now it occurs to me
that they’re more a shimmering shoal of sand eels,
dissipated in a second, disappearing momentarily,
a stubborn collective thought of explosive energy.
 
 
 
Troy Town
 
Never too late to learn to trust the path
like rustics running the shepherd’s race
at May Eve. To put aside all thoughts
of dead ends, blind alleys, mental maps.
To put aside all thoughts.
                                   Yet here we are
on hands and knees again, penitent,
bent on special pleading to whatever
it is lies at the centre, certain only
there’s but one place this is heading.
 
 
from Troy Town (Arrowhead Press, 2008)
 
 
 
Order Troy Town.
 
Visit Matt’s blog, Polyolbion.
 
Read three poems published in Horizon Review.
 
Read a poem published in Ink Sweat & Tears.
 
Listen to Matt reading four poems at PoetCasting.