Untanglement by Matt Nicholson

During the launch event I’d scrawled ‘google diphthong’ and ‘essence of whale’ in the half-light of the city centre venue. Now a week or more later I finally sit down with Untanglement.

Untanglement by Matt Nicholson (Yaffle Press 2022) cover by Stevie Mitchell Inky Conditions

The eye-catching cover illustration is of clothes drying, strung between pylons: the perfect visual metaphor for the madness of the intervening years between this book and the last.

The opening poem is visceral and cold as Matt relives and attempts to exorcise trauma experienced as a child. The single line that refers to ‘us’ as the author undergoes heart surgery stands out. ‘Said big me to little me’ is a strong opener.

There follows brief windows into childhood and teenage years; what will become a recurring theme of fearful encounters with canines, and me, asking, ‘Do fish hibernate?’ 

Untangle’, the titular poem of sorts jump cuts to the here and now suggests the words that can left unsaid amongst the winding and unwinding of threads. A series of complex movements are observed as an old man rolls his own. Matt frets about male patten baldness and then on page 15, as he is ‘Holding up a mirror’ it slowly dawns on me that there’s been a lot of unwords. Feeling somewhat clever, I go back, reread and sure enough they are all there: unspoilt, unhouseled, uncharted, unlost, unstanding, unroll, and they keep coming, unlabelled, unseeing: an entire cast of unwords. 

A simple verse halfway through the book provides a key, to the cover image. The topsy turvy world where the outside became no more than a picture inside one’s head. Those listless days punctuated with poems that scream silently at the stillness and solitude; as we sit beside and mourn for what is lost. Amongst moments of wry humour and the numerous forewarnings of his own demise – or that of some undefined other – there are some poems in the collection that are puzzles waiting to be pieced together to reveal a clearer picture. 

Untanglement: an excellent lesson in ‘show not tell’ with poems like rabbit punches, feelings like pinpricks, and jabs to the heart. The one called ‘Basic Transference‘ might well be the strangest analogy for love… but anyone who, while dreaming of a visit to an art gallery, gives the waiting world the gloriously scandalous line, ‘…exhume Mary Whitehouse then upset her,’ will not be left unread for long. 

postscript: ‘diphthong‘ remains ungoogled.  

Buy Untanglement at Yaffle Press https://www.yafflepress.co.uk/collections

author site: https://mattpoet.com/

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