Looking at the turnout for the support act’s set, I’m reminded of a wispy comb-over. As ever, the consumer knows best and art and culture are, after all, just another commodity. I hate being late for things – perhaps through a fear of missing out, perhaps because I just don’t get out enough. Anyway, I have endured countless terrible, or not altogether appalling support acts: feedback, tuneless, rubbishy lyrics, or sometimes all three of these get them in the end. However, as soon as The Veils fired up their first tune at Oxford’s Carling Academy a couple of years ago, I knew that I was hearing the real thing. The main event had nothing to touch this energy and intensity.
Today I stumbled upon Matt Merritt’s Making the Most of the Light, a humble chap-book but, within its pages are poems of power and beauty. We all know the frustrating lag between operating the virtual shutter of a digital camera and the moment when it actually deigns to shoot the image. In Developments, the first stanza presents an eerily spooky moment. ‘Years he waited in vain for something unseen / to emerge from the emulsion under safe light. / In the early days, the loved one, long departed, / leaning into the shot over someone’s shoulder’. The poem reads like an elegy, grief still raw. However, the unspecified ‘something’ also hints at a non-human presence, giving the stanza a troubling, uncanny quality. Today, despite the digital revolution, nothing has changed as ‘Sometimes no amount / of experience can prepare him for the way, // in six expensive megapixels, late sun picks out / the blush on a wintering goosander’s white breast, / where moments earlier there was only a man, / a settling pool, a monochrome afternoon’. The poem remains open to the unexpected; even its title suggests energy and momentum and, like Keats’s nightingale, or Hardy’s thrush, the bird is a sign of hope, of inspiration. The funereal white of Hardy’s Neutral Tones is overcome by the late sun’s blush.
Mortality pervades the collection and a poem like Saturday uses the banality of the everyday to help us to feel death’s sting more acutely. ‘So we wake, and the distance from Friday night / to Saturday morning has widened, stretched. / The evening’s words harden between us in / the bright, brittle sun of a false spring’. The aubade should ring with the devil-may-care spunk of John Donne but Merritt’s Saturday morning feels more like many of ours: hung-over, possibility shrivelling in the light. ‘Last night, when you stood with your back / to the reservoir wall, holding back the flood – / full moon teed up on the radio mast, sodium glow a few feet above – / this was a world small enough to encompass / all our pain, our fear, our love. Now, in the warm / light of day, the lid is lifted off. / The blue miles have their say’. The final line offers a brutal subversion of the summer weekend, reminding us of our true place in the cosmos.
There’s humour here too, with a poem like Treaty’s blokey language reminiscent of Don Paterson : ‘Here’s the deal – / as I am only the average dumb male, / which is to say, monosyllabic. / Yes. Me’. Although the prevailing tone is elegiac, these poems are shot through with moments of beauty and epiphany. Matt Merritt is no dodgy support act and these poems are the real thing. Sadly, Making the Most of the Light is currently out of print but Troy Town is available from Arrowhead Press and hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica is available from Nine Arches Press.