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Interview: Matthew M C Smith

Matthew’s work is evocative and sincere without being sentimental. His poetry frequently uses landscape as a means to explore ideas and intersections of time, space and human stories, using powerful imagery that takes the reader on a journey full of multiple transformations. 

On the blurb of ‘Origins’ Patrick Jones calls out the work as; ‘Taught, visceral, human. Where Heaney and Clarke meet. Read and feel. Then go out and notice.’

Here, I looked at one of my favourite poems from Matthew’s first collection. I am hugely grateful that Matthew has given permission to share the poem in full on this website as well as answering these questions with such sincerity and generosity of spirit.

Poem: Field X

Trees stand sentinel

boughs glisten black 

banks of leaves

tumble to field’s edge

a ditch brook murmurs

orange blood of iron trickle

Scare of crow, sky

speck of hawk, high

brook, river 

mast, transmitter 

red pulse 

on signal spire

Fields tilled, stilled

a picking bird

tapping a barren bower

tear-salt winds

bleach a long skull

and whistle wire

Interview

In one reading, the poem discusses the impact of technology on the landscape (for example, through juxtaposing the trees with the transmitter). How far was this part of your intention when writing the poem?

Matthew: In 2017, I was thinking about various ideas for a poem. I kept thinking about the challenge of writing about a communications mast. Not the most exciting or poetic of topics but this random challenge kept on cropping up in my mind and I was drawn in and wrote and rewrote.

‘Field X’ describes a journey through woodland to a field with a communications mast. As the voice of the poem stumbles down banks of leaves and enters the field, nature is barren. It feels like the environment revolves around the mast; it has a dominating presence in the landscape yet it also feels like nature carries on in its own way – very slowly, at its lowest ebb. The field is pretty barren, a deathly environment, and there is an air of hopelessness. Yes, it is a poem about technology vs nature but it shows that nature continues despite changes that almost make it alien from what it once was. 

Sometimes, my thoughts about the poem change. I’ve imagined my father as the person in the poem stumbling into the field and the transmitter being symbolic of the wasteland of his cancer and chemotherapy. This is a sad reflection as I write this. This is a bleak poem that I think about a lot and can mean so many things. Other times, it’s just a nature poem. 

Likewise, the poem can be read as an eco-poem. In the first strophe, the blackness of the trees is contrasted with the orange brook (polluted by iron). However, rather than pursuing a protest poem narrative, S3 instead shares images that suggest that death has always been a natural integral part of the landscape. Is this a fair reading? And were you tempted to pursue/revisit the image of the brook in the final strophe?

Matthew: You’re right, ‘Field X’ is an eco-poem. I try to avoid didactic, overtly protest poetry (because I’m not the best at that type of writing) but sometimes it’s hard to rein in concerns. This poem has a dystopian quality and reminds me slightly of scenes in Blade Runner 2 where characters walk through polluted landscapes, where nature continues despite environmental catastrophe. The poem is set in autumn or winter, hence the black trees, and iron runs in the brook. Nature’s not bountiful here. I wasn’t tempted to go back to the image of the brook (although I am now!) The images are pretty sequential and I rewrote the line about the bleached sheep skull on wire several times.

The poem is imagistic, sparse, observational and impersonal, which is what I mostly strive to write. My poetry can seem distant, a little austere but I love writing in this way. 

The sonics of the poem in S1 and S2 work to create a multi-sensory image of the landscape, locating it in a particular place. Was there a specific ‘place’ that inspired the poem, and, if so, where is it?

Matthew: The orange brook was specifically inspired by the orange streams on the old Clyne railway track in Swansea; also by the water courses in Gilfach Goch (which means ‘little red creek’), where I used to work. Orange streams and rivers look post-apocalyptic. The transmitter field is inspired by the 261- metre high Wenvoe communications mast in the Vale of Glamorgan, near Cardiff. It looms over an agricultural landscape.

Some of the writing and word-choices here use alliteration in a way that echoes, in my reading, the work of Gerard Manley-Hopkins.  Is this something you’ve deliberately invoked in your poem and if so, in what way does Manley-Hopkins’ work influence your poetry?

Matthew: I used to read Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas and numerous other lyrical, alliterative poets when I was a teenager. There is a Manley Hopkins-esque quality to this (and several other poems in my book Origin), albeit it in a more stripped-down form. I like to use alliteration and asonance and find that it happens naturally now. I only realise I’ve used it when I read back. In ‘Field X’, There’s some dense sound-patterning in ‘Scare of crow, sky/ speck of hawk, high/ brook, river,/ mast, transmitter/ red pulse/ on signal spire’. 

I also think that my poetry conveys some of the sentiments of Manley Hopkins’s. Some very bleak moments but also a sense of awe and an attempt to capture the spirit of place and things. Being compared to this poet is a huge compliment. Thank you.

The poem focuses entirely on the landscape – there is no discernible narrator, despite contemporary poetry having an increasing focus on the ‘I’. What made you choose to locate the narrative in the images rather than in an external narrative voice?

Matthew: I tend to avoid ‘I’ poems and always think about Eliot’s impersonality as a poet – his aim of “the extinction of the personality” in poetry. I like detached, disembodied poetic voices and I don’t find writing about myself that inspiring (I’m also quite private). However, some of the poems I have written that are personal have been well-received so I mix it up.  I write about family, fatherhood, nature, history, place, cosmos and a whole host of other subjects, including radio transmitters! Random! There are some incredible poets who write personal ‘I’ poems. Perhaps I’ll move more towards this in future.

‘Origin: 21 Poems’ is available on Amazon and is priced £8.00

Origin: 21 Poems: Amazon.co.uk: Smith, Matthew M C: 9781980305750: Books

‘Origin’ is a powerful debut collection of poetry by Matthew M C Smith, a writer from Swansea, Wales. The 21 poems in the collection, written and honed over years take on various subjects from memories of his father, the joy of becoming a father, to the Welsh landscape and the devastation of war.

Matthew M. C. Smith is a Welsh poet from Swansea. He is ‘Best of the Net’ nominated (2020) and is published in Icefloe Press, Barren Magazine, The Lonely Crowd, Anti-Heroin Chic, Broken Spine, Wales Haiku Journal and Seventh Quarry.

Twitter: @MatthewMCSmith

Insta: @smithmattpoet

Also on Facebook. www.blackboughpoetry.com/matthew-m-c-smith

Filed under: interview, Poetry

About the Author

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Sarah-Jane is an educator at Hereford College of Arts and a postgraduate researcher at Birmingham City University. Her poetry can be read in various journals, including the Muddy River Poetry Review, the Wales Haiku Journal, The Inflectionist Review and Black Bough Poetry's Deep Time Two Anthology. She was shortlisted for the Haiku Foundation's Touchstone Award in April 2020.

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