My review of Home Turf originally appeared in issue 61 of The Journal.
Home Turf by Ann Matthews is, as poetry books go, a pleasing thing: a good cover, well designed, with a nice weight, shape and heft. And the thingness of the book is important, because Matthews’s work is offering us a conceptual sense of the interplay between the corporeal and the transient, between life and the places it is lived.
The work deals with time and space, with each poem representing a place Matthews has lived. With its focus on the play of words (bold letters in the text spelling out the addresses) and the mathematics of form (poem lines equate to a street number or name), and the way that some of the poems occupy the spaces of floorplans: this is a piece of work in the Oulipian mode. Matthews is also channelling the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, citing Lyn Hejinian on the nature of form at the outset, and employing the New Sentence to loosen the sense of linear causality about the work. ‘not all of these memories are mine/ they are stolen, you say, from/ photographs’ Matthews offers us, at one point, and this is the main theme of the work as a whole, to interrogate the reliability but also direction of memory, to chop time’s arrow into pieces, and let it scatter into angles of a new form.
When I first glanced through the pages of the book, I felt like I was looking through a catalogue for an art installation that didn’t exist. I’ll admit: I’ve got a bit sniffy about this kind of thing as I’ve got older—my problem, I know— and I’d set myself up to be put off Matthews’s work before I even started. The persuasiveness of Matthews’ voice brought me around, however, her sense of play and the fluidity and accomplishment of her writing. Her experimentation, if that’s really the word, her conception of the work is never less than inviting, and always personal, direct and engaging. In some ways, the writing here reminded me of Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures, playing with our pre-conceived ideas on form, exploring life through its mutable spaces. Home Turfis life writing in the model of a free-form pre-fab: recognisable parts tessellating into structures offering innovation and surprise.
Knives, Forks and Spoons Press 978-1-912211-56-2 £10