‘Street Sailing’ by Matt Gilbert

After reading Matt Gilbert’s ‘Street Sailing’, I feel like I have been for a long walk with him, in Bristol and the country and places in-between, a meditative walk noticing tiny detail and letting it stir the emotions.

He is not afraid of showing his own reaction to places and events, including being moved by the ‘wood-hard muscles’ of hornbeam trees, and an incident where he lit the match to burn a bunch of dead, poisoned rats – ‘layered in between sticks and crumpled /paper, like rat lasagne.’

One of my favourite poems is ‘Garden bag resurrection’ which I remember reading on a long-ago TopTweetTuesday on Twitter. This surreal imagining of the bag as ‘a crumpled, green face’ transforms the ‘death-mask’ into a temporary hive for bees who the poet sees as ‘reinventing space, bridging hope and ruin.’  I can only marvel at such generosity of imagination, to cull this from a mundane object.

There are remarkable relationships at work here, with the living world. The poet sees an old oak in ‘Undercliff’ and staggered, stops. ‘Together briefly, we are a pair/of pilgrims, passing on the road.’ This, somehow, feels like an encounter of equals.

Matt Gilbert (skilfully edited by Matthew M C Smith) has woven some kind of deep magic here from unprepossessing, everyday fabric. Treat yourself to a taste of his conjuring skills.

Available on Amazon 

Brain food

If you haven’t discovered the Hedgehog Press and its ‘Stickleback’ editions, please go and find them. These are slim volumes of four poems from a single poet, or sometimes two poets. They are beautifully- produced, colourful gems. My favourite at the moment is by Jules Whiting and Vic Pickup.

It’s about four responses to an EEG, a method of recording brain activity. In one poem, the technician shines lights at the patient, which become a fairgound ride, the sun glinting on trees and a glass bird. It is a fine way of showing how our imagination creates glorious things out of what is a technical but scary procedure.          

Another disturbing poem deals with falling in love – how the radiologist ‘holding her head in his hands, whispered reassurance’ and how he watches ‘this electrolysed Medusa’ and imagines her convulsions.

And in ‘Sleep EEG’ a wonderful conceit unwinds, where the patient asks if the technician can press a switch to ‘restore factory settings’.

The last poem ‘What Colour is My Brain?’ is a tender portrait of the interaction between patient and a radiologist who has himself had cancer. The patient touches his arm and wishes him a long life. ‘He cups my hand in his, smiles’.

If, in future, I have an EEG, I will carry these images with me, these human interpretations of what is a unsettling but necessary intervention.

I can’t recommend the Sticklebacks highly enough – they give huge bang for a poetic buck. www.hedgehogpress.co.uk