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THE PLACE INSIDE:
Jennifer Matthews reviews Matthew Geden's newest poetry collection
Jennifer Matthews was born in Missouri (USA) and has lived in Ireland since 2003. Her poetry has been published in The Stinging Fly, Mslexia, Revival, Necessary Fiction, Poetry Salzburg, Foma & Fontanelles and Cork Literary Review,and anthologised in Dedalus's collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places (2010). She is currently working on a collaboration with poet Anamaría Crowe Serrano.
The Place Inside
(Dedalus Press, 2012)
ISBN: 978 1 906614 56 0
Buy from Dedalus
Political poetry is cycling in again, as well it should. Think Dave Lordan, William Wall, Sarah Clancy. Others are turning their poetic attention towards the destruction of the environment (Mahon, Duffy). As societal ills rev up, escalating harshly, we naturally look outward—scanning the horizon for danger, sounding the warning sirens. While poetry of protest is welcome and crucial, it is times like these that also necessitate work of quiet and introspection, to take stock of our own place in the world. Matthew Geden’s The Place Inside does exactly this.
Quiet places aren’t always interiors—some of Geden’s poems bring the reader to a cosmic, wide-angled view of the world where human existence is just a speck. This isn’t a mournful observation, merely a kind of orientation—a “you-are-here” sign. In the initial prose poem ‘Time Passes’: “The traveller, on the road too long, without a stone to sit on, without the shelter of a tree in the too-vast night with the noises coming from the distance, fled before the vague hint of fear. He never found any shelter other than space.” These wide-angled portraits bring to mind centuries-old paintings of Chinese landscapes, where any human figure is a merely speck in the larger grandeur of the world around them. It would seem Geden’s work is at least partially influenced by Asian poetics, in its precise sparseness and nature-inspired motifs.
While the poems are emotionally honest, there is a very welcome distance as regards personal revelation in The Place Inside. One of my bêtes noires as a reader is when the poet confuses showing off a “family photo-album” (as it were) with creating artistic portraits, which betrays a kind of lack of consideration for their reader. (It is similar experience to being at a party, trapped in a corner with someone who will only talk about themselves.) While Geden’s work may stem from actual events in his life, the conscious distance he creates allows the reader their own experience of the poem without the clutter of biographical detail. Take the poem ‘Limbo’:
I can’t go back, return to the house
where I was born, the spinney
in which I lived. I would see
myself in the hallway, outside
the living-room door, listening for news
of the adult world, my childhood in limbo.
The space inside the stanza allows the reader their own associations of hallways, of childhood, of limbo, and in this way creates a kind of intimacy where the poet and his audience can meet.
In many ways, The Place Inside is a study of the soul in isolation—its natural state. Often the figure in the poem is alone by choice, and this collection very much honours the experience of the introvert. Introversion isn’t treated as a pathological or pitiful experience by Geden, rather as something chosen and honest. In ‘Nature Walk’ the figure is on “a pathway to a long aloneness” and “the farther/ in I go the farther out I am”. Pathways, walks, roads, cars, and planes are often the setting for his isolated figures—they are in transit, journeying. The destinations are rarely mentioned, a state of limbo is evoked. In ‘Pebble’, “Little by little/ the traffic almost disappeared/ and the night wrapped its arms/ around us ...”.
With limbo comes the inevitable association of mortality, and Geden’s lonely souls are very aware of it in their own quiet ways. Often brave, they stand facing darkness, they come to places that end and don’t turn back. In ‘Hotel’:
there is music and laughter
and he loses the thread of what
it is to speak so presses hands
and smiles, keeps walking, right
through and out of the exit.
Geden's contemplative collection is a gentle resting place for readers, helping us gather our strength as we face the "pathway to a long aloneness".
©2012 Jennifer Matthews
Matthews poems at Poetry International Web
Yank Refugee in the PRC (blog)
The Stinging Fly