Matthew M. C. Smith, the editor of Black Bough Poetry in Swansea, Wales, has reissued his 2018 book of poetry, the modestly entitled Origin: 21 Poems. It is his first collection of poetry in a long life of working on poetry and studying poetics. One of his first contributions to the body of work on literature is his doctorate at the University of Wales, a thesis on the poetry of Robert Graves. Currently, Matthew divides his time amongst a career in work on anti-poverty, education and welfare work; an editorship at Black Bough Poetry/Barddoniaeth Y Gangen Ddu, and a new volume of poetry, all of which makes him truly a Renaissance man.
When I had finished reading Origin: 21 Poems, my first thought was that if I weren’t talking about poetry, I’d say that each of these poems is clinically exact, except that I am talking about poetry, and “clinically” is the wrong word; these are poems rich in feeling, fellow-feeling, and emotional wealth, and here the poetical indirections are made in short, minimalist code of metaphor and description, which perhaps has confused my own non-minimalist poetic practice.
This poetry is definitely something to learn, and to know how to do, for the beauty of the sometimes staccato revelations is extreme, the phrasing a sort of condensed shorthand on the road to perfect portraiture, to individual epiphanies, to separate visions.
The book Origin: 21 Poems is entirely situated around family situations, cultural ones, and natural/mythological/religious ones (all those things in life that are so much bigger than we are), sketching a line from belief and belief systems through the societal structures and remnants of ritual our civilization has left us with to family and celebrations of family and faith, the most personal of all.
There are careful pairings of poems back and forth, weaving, knitting a net to catch us in, with the warp in one poem being a salute to air travel, to being a soldier, either modern or ancient, and the woof of the next poem following being a loving meditation dedicated to a child’s birth or to play with children, or, one of the most moving poems, a poem on the death of the poet’s father, containing some of the implications of his life. There are poems on prophets and guardians and “prodigal” women, nature poems filled with the beauty of winter or the symbolic natural growths of the seasons, and the book ends in a tribute poem to another Welsh poet, Alun Lewis, who died in WW II. There is no accident here in these weavings of opposites, because they not only thus form Smith’s dedication to being a participating witness in all the doings of life, but they also invite the reader to select favorite and most resonant phrases, to read aloud, and then willy-nilly, to be led into a different experience, just as life itself would demand. Here are some of my favorite lines and their topical sources:
the birth of a child: “You belong to the world/to rose-red rivers dipped by the sun/to the white path of light in darkest night/ to frosts of fire beyond our dawn”
the death of a father: “No cry, nor whisper, a cross shape/near crested roar and the people you love/carried you from the shore”
“After Man”: “The fern, the ivy/the circle of oaks/were fast losing names given…our time was terribly mocked”
the modern soldier; “Men of arms…frame-ache, sting of sweat/body-rack past forest tracks/where whippet-lads lead/and bigger lads wane”
“The Moment”; “cycles of sun and/nights of stone//Picasso/his sorrow of shadow/is cast across/a frieze of terror”
the poet’s homage to another poet: “your words grow old/but dare not fade/I heard they took you/in feathers as light as snow/and in that whirling flight/as words exhaled/they kissed your fading glow”
Here, the taut exactitudes I have spoken of in my title are from line to line, but blossoming forth in between are the pictures, the images, bodied forth in and contained by the lines themselves. The overall effect? Almost a contradiction in terms, the lyricism of the burgeoning phrases, held firmly in the short precision of the actual words. Thus, it should be no guess that the preference at Black Bough Poetry is for short, imagistic poems of 1-10 lines, and that the devotion to the human equation has produced a sense of community for poets of every stripe, who are regularly invited to participate every Tuesday online through Twitter, tweeting to Black Bough Poetry, in #Top#Tweet#Tuesday, a rollicking, fun-filled poetic experiment in exposing poets from all areas of the globe to the work of other poets of all kinds and schools. As well, there are occasionally special seasonal contests and participations, such as the recently closed one for Hallowe’en 2021.
As a final and defining note about this poet’s, Matthew M. C. Smith’s, contribution to the world poetic community, I would like to call attention to his election this month (November 2021) to be Broken Spine’s #Writer of the Month. Already, he has participated in more than one poetic activity in this position, all of which information is available to the interested follower on Twitter. If you are not yet familiar with Smith, his book is available on Amazon, and for all the many poets the world over who are already friends, admirers, and poetic colleagues of him and his welcoming, modest and self-deprecating humor, let’s give him another round of applause, and keep reminding him we are eagerly and a bit impatiently waiting to read his next book. I mean, for a man who has so little else to do! Seriously, though, be watching for Matthew M. C. Smith’s next volume of poetry; to judge based on this one, it’ll be another wonderful poetic experience.
Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)