POETRY IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
2 Catching Up With History by Matt Simpson, Bloodaxe pounds 6.95. Matt Simpson is an admirer of those who cultivate their own regional cooking while keeping one eye out for useful recipes from city slickers. Here he continues the exploration of his Merseyside roots, and the results are as quirky and rewarding as in previous books. The title poem juxtaposes "painted saints in agonies at full stretch,/ the gates of heaven about, orgasmically, to burst upon them" with a half-remembered acquaintance, "Harry Someone! a man in shabby dungarees, crisp beard,/who rolled his own, nifty with politics and jokes". Harry "stared/as from another side, through fences and barbed wire", terminally concussed by bad luck and bad health. This sardonic, compassionate sketch of an unreal sexy heaven and a familiar weekday hell is typical of Simpson's talent for mixing up the transcendental and the mundane in surprising new ways. It's there in "Easy Chair", as well as in the poem about a cousin who phones unexpectedly: "just enough love between us now/for announcing funerals, opening graves".

Class mobility, posh versus us, gets various treatments and a comic outing in a Scouse version of The Waste Land which probably works better at readings than on the page. "Holding on to wonder/as something we attach/ ourselves to meaning by" is his strong suit. His better poems do just that, the lesser ones are content to recite the formula.

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