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Matrix I & Matrix II by David Miller (Guillemot Press)

Matrix I & Matrix II by David Miller (Guillemot Press)

‘the green edge of yesterday’

In 1958 William Carlos Williams wrote his ‘autobiography of the works of a poet’ in conversation with Edith Heal. The title of the book was unflinchingly clear: I Wanted to Write a Poem. In the early pages Williams talked about the writing of his 1920 publication Kora in Hell: Improvisations and gave an account of its inception:

“For a year I used to come home and no matter how late it was before I went to bed I would write something. And I kept writing, writing, even if it were only a few words, and at the end of the year there were 365 entries. Even if I had nothing in my mind at all I put something down…They were a reflection of the day’s happenings more or less, and what I had had to do with them.”

Realising that he would need to “interpret” these thoughts Williams found a book that Ezra Pound had left in his house, Varie Poesie dell’ Abate Pietro Metastasio, Venice, 1795 and he took the method used by the Abbot of drawing a line between his improvisations (“those more or less incomprehensible statements”) and his interpretations of them. Williams chose the frontispiece to his volume from a drawing done by a young artist from Gloucester, Stuart Davis: “It was, graphically, exactly what I was trying to do in words, put the Improvisations down as a unit on the page. You must remember I had a strong inclination all my life to be a painter. Under different circumstances I would rather have been a painter than to bother with these god-damn words. I never actually thought of myself as a poet but I knew I had to be an artist in some way. Anyhow, Floss and I went to Gloucester and got permission from Stuart Davis to use his art – an impressionistic view of the simultaneous.” And it is that impressionistic view of what happens in the present that seems to haunt David Miller’s deeply moving new volumes, heralding in a new year, a New decade: moments of memory appearing sharply in focus before the merging together of movements. An “arcade in memory or dream” precedes the “pianist forced to dig hard earth with his fingers” but one who “played no more”.
Threading its path through the twenty lyrical pieces of Matrix I there is “calligraphy entwined with drawing” as “my words entwined her art”. Personal recollections are given the exactness of place and Miller’s musical rhythms sound drawn by the “ink & Chinese brushes / bought in a Chinese supermarket // in Gerrard Street / c. 1973”. Descending “the chines / in darkness // & in wind” the poet remembers “how I phoned you one evening / in despair” and the quietness of personal recollection borrows movement from a reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem ‘The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo’ in which the ending of the first section (“Despair, despair, despair, despair”) is followed by the echo which is golden:

“Spare!
There is one, yes I have one (Hush there!),
Only not within seeing of the sun.
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Ońe.”

Miller’s movement is from “despair” to an impressionistic reconstruction which merges the domestic and the ubiquitous:

“30 years later we met again
& soon after we married

so many wasted years
amongst fickle & false friends

along with the few
who truly counted

– in dream
a tiny being sylph-like

wings useless
clogged with mud

stranded in a gutter
crying for help”

In late Latin the word ‘matrix’ refers to the womb: that dark place in which new growth commences and, as we stand upon the bones of the past, we can glimpse both who and where we are. It is with this movement forward that Matrix II opens with “a bent tree by / the water’s edge” and “now in Dorset // an old farmhouse / & converted outbuilding”.

David Miller’s impressionistic world of sight and sound, of memory and desire, is an unforgettable realisation of the movement of age:

“heavy rain
all night

nonsequences
no

but going back
& forth

I slept little that night
dreaming of friends…dead

who had no desire
to protest or complain

nor to stay

These two lyrical sequences are a moving tribute to a poet’s awareness of the past. Like the fifth ‘Improvisation’ from Williams’s Kora there is a “beautiful white corpse of night” and voices are “restfully babbling of how, where, why and night is done and the green edge of yesterday has said all it could.”

Ian Brinton, January 1st 2020

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

I felt highly honoured when asked to provide a few words for the back cover of this long-awaited collection and make no apology for repeating those words here:

 

The dreams of David Miller hang tantalizingly over the mind’s edges: their disappearance is ‘manifestation and absence’, like breath into the wind. Through those ‘irregular / small gaps’ an attentiveness to the world of the other permits him to focus upon the immediate.

 

In the short essay on the ‘Theme of Language in Relation to Heidegger’s Philosophy’ which appeared in Paper Air, Volume 3, number 1 in 1982, Miller referred to the German philosopher’s regard for language as the ‘place or dimension where beings are brought into the light of unconcealment’. He concluded with a statement that is so pertinent to his own poetry:

 

The thinker and the poet would presumably be “listening” to Saying rather than merely forcing language to do their bidding; so that beings could be “released” into their “whole” being: then beings would be encountered in such a way “that Being would shine out of them”.

 

In a similar vein Miller also wrote an important account of the poetry of Charles Madge for Great Works 7 (1980) in which he referred to Madge’s poetry working ‘at an uncovering, indeed a double disclosure’:

 

It seeks to uncover and demystify the myths of capitalist society; and also to disclose a fundamental richness and beauty in both the life we do live and, importantly, the life we could live but may be prevented from living.

 

An early section of Miller’s substantial sequence ‘The Story’:

 

that story was the story you told,

a curve

as notation for music.

 

to question the term “unit” is to

question the term “totality”

and I question it.

no one knows what is meant by

“perception”.

 

This long awaited collection offers the reader both units and totality: it is a terrific volume which Shearsman has produced.

 

Ian Brinton, 30 May 2014.

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