An independent small press poetry review

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21 Hatton Green
ISBN 0 9550280 3 5

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An atmosphere of familiarity plays around Matt Merritt's poems. The mild familiarity of a walk by a salt-marsh, the inconsequential familiarity of a room, or the unprepossessing familiarity of a face seen through a window, snap us to attention in OPEN VERDICT:

	Nothing there to say who, or how or where.
	No final image seared on the retina
or the familiarity of the warm wind in I'M YOUR MAN:
	I saw you again last night. The warm wind 
	was breathing summer into everything 
	and your face had caught the sun, so I sipped 
	and crossed over to where the windows, 
	facing west, were wide open.
Characteristically, Merritt's humour is unemphatic or unstated. Even in lines, from FAMILIAR, as flat as
	Him, dictating 
	memoirs of the man who's done it all, 
	and me, signing at the bottom of each page.
the words "and me, signing at the bottom of each page" seem to hover in the air, less to contradict than to qualify the directness of the poet's statement. In DIRECTOR'S CUT the persona is seen trying to capture the essence of his loved one as if on film, but Merritt is carefully attentive throughout the poem to the unpredictable contingencies, the bizarre juxtapositions, that help us to recognize that this is not merely a director at work:
	If I'd guessed where it might end, that first day, 
	I'd have held your gaze a little longer, made my 
	opening line smarter, stronger. 
	Every camera would have framed your face,
The poems in MAKING THE MOST OF THE LIGHT reflect back and forth in strange light, thunder about to break, lightning about to strike. Several of the poems recall the persona's relationships, while others recall places or events. These aggregations brought together in one book allow them to work upon each other through their humour, angles of vision, colours and themes (the perennial subjects of family, relationships and dislocation.) Whether located at the salt-marsh, the seaside, a cottage, or in midstream, the poems act as tilted mirrors, sharp-edged postcards of glimpsed moments, tastes and textures. They are, perhaps, at times, a little arch. But self-effacement and laconic humour keep them balanced, as in the poem about a game of cricket, LAST MAN:
	Then the urge to go down all guns blazing, 
	bat flailing through the frantic arc from 
	desperate to glorious, but each week instead 
	the same stonewall stand.
This caution and deadpan comedy are strategies used by Merritt to explore the people he has loved and the places where he has lived, as much as by the curious eye he brings to them. His poems move across gestures, perceptions, sights, missed opportunities to dwell on the "ordinary things" that may seem a little strange to the reader, as in the poem OPEN VERDICT:
	Halogen throws unforgiving light 
	on marbled skin, blackened blood, a last supper 
	telling the lie of a life rich and full and good. 
	But no hint of what she couldn't stomach. 
	No scars or stains. No taint of wormwood.
Merritt's poems seem stronger when the material of his concern is more substantial. In VOLUNTARY he commemorates the oncology ward:
	and we can watch the sun go down,
	red and furious.
	It is unbearable.
And in EXILE, demonstrates what it is like to take a last look at home:
	Braced for the passage into the other country 
	you're trying to keep it painless. 
	So  no long goodbyes, no lingering over 
	that softer slant to the light, no mention of why 
	(first days at school, I suppose) this always feels like 
	the real start of the year. No tears. No fear.
Merritt provides a note that draws attention to the meaning behind this poem. It would appear that Merritt's fascination is held both by historical event and by human concerns. He's aware of an affinity with the tendency towards the survival of himself, as witness FAMILIAR. But more usually his touch is personal, slight,
	I sleep too easily now you're not here.
The lines between observation and understanding mark the land the poems appear to be built upon: sometimes shifting, with tracks leading here and there, occasionally bland, sometimes iridescent as in the poem WALKING THE HORSHOE:
	We took the path around the ridge, 
	the Cat's Back, a trailing wind 
	lifting us by our shoulders, the sun, 
	suddenly revealed, warming our necks.
Whether Merritt writes witheringly of the public dimension or poignantly of the personal, his words have profound effect; the melancholy that threads through his poetry is evident in this collection, but whatever his topic, the poems form a rich and often thought-provoking narrative. Just as I wanted to quote image after image, I'm tempted to single out my favourite poems, but I find that I keep adding to the list of these each time I revisit the book. I urge you to read MAKING THE MOST OF THE LIGHT and discover favourites of your own.

reviewer: Patricia Prime