Matt Howard feedback February, 2019Underlying Matt Howard’s reading was his assertion that ‘Nature is culture and culture is Nature’. Culture (origin CULT system of religious worship + URE that by which action is affected). An experienced reader since the appearance of his first collection, Matt understands the pull and tug of repetition, the lure of speaking of his Norfolk childhood to Norfolk inhabitants. The poems are dense, intense, and we heard a lot - all in their various ways plumbing the natural world. There were adders in ballad-rhymed quatrains and one on the power of deformity that attracted showground visitors not so long ago. How does the need for Nature’s culture feature in the first poem he read (‘A Jar of Moles’)? Largely in a sense of wonder. Not only for the ‘quiet wild faces’ and ‘pink snouts’ of long-pickled specimens in a London museum, but respect for the wonder that prompted men to seek enlightenment by studying them. A lot is packed into five fine tercets that become simultaneously, a private love letter.‘just as a true heart only ever brims with love’Ted Hughes was a seminal influence, so Hughes’ ‘Wind’, chosen by Mike Hall-Smith in his absence, was a perfect template: man, fields, birds, the very sky tossed by Nature’s raw power. Matt described his five-part ‘The House of Owls’, as ‘a Norfolk boy’s version of countryside myths’ Were the poems about birds, humans or something metamorphosing between, ‘her bruised scalp flecked with white down’? They were metaphors for dysfunction, Matt said in his introduction, dysfunctional relationships and dysfunction in ourselves. This brought us close to the violence of Hughes. ‘Femur’ led into several war poems with the remains of a bone on a French battlefield cum cemetery. Other poems were sparked by John Evelyn’s Display Cabinet, a gall from and oak tree, and a 34 stone stuffed gorilla in the Natural History Museum. Most of those in Gall began with a physical item that pulled Matt’s imagination forwards, sideways and back into history. It was fascinating to hear how they had forced their way through.**Without a copy of Wordsworth’s 14-part autobiographical ‘The Prelude,’ I can’t offer a line of the lovely piece about the poet’s winters that George brought along. The snow chimed both with our natural world theme and with the time of year. Carla’s New Yorker contribution, ‘The Snow Goes to the Gallows of a Warm Grass and What Survives’ by young Deborah Landau was a captivating contemporary view of the poet’s relationship with snow. Snow ‘puts on you a hat’, ‘fumbles at your borders, / wants a way in’. And ‘it is marvellous/ when the snow has its arms around us’. Lovely! Sally Hammond’s ‘It’s February again’ had some good line breaks. We rallied to what became meaningful repetition of the title line in each stanza. More repetition came from Anne McKeon’s ‘Stillness’, Evelyn’s choice that somehow missed out on February, to bring us spring buds. Maybe this was wishful thinking. Alice brought us eight rhymed couplets in some tightly argued playfulness. ‘Must exploitation trouncing sense be hardwired in our genes’ (‘Doggerel Diatribe’).Writing in a prescribed form is an exercise I fully recommend to any prospective poet.Of four offerings not specially influenced by our theme, John’s ‘Another overheard conversation’ with his grandson kept us intrigued. Maureen’s ‘Rivers’ didn’t wonder about her subject so much as recollect experiences of them. Peter’s ‘Father. Christmas.’ had a smart turn from the natural world, a tree that made a metaphor for his father.Pippa’s ‘Listening to Billie’ and ‘Holiday Snap’ were perfectly titled. The first a resounding lament, the second a delicious visual image. ‘Oh woman/Among the sunflowers!/ Oh crush/Of sky. In the end it’s difficult to get away from the natural world. And its people.