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Sounds in the Grass by Matt Nunn,
Nine Arches Press, £8.00

Click here to buy

You don't have to venture far into Matt Nunn's third book to realise how apt the title is. The first two poems see him getting his engine started, but by 'Big beautiful bastard' it's clear that Nunn is building his work not around themes or a voice or structural skeletons, but a thread of sound that he hungrily follows, rather like a desert mole hunting its prey by vibrations in the sand. As he puts it at the end of 'Without words she is wonderful colour', he feels 'the need to construct these clumps of words into a purr'.

Sentences power unstoppably onward, while gags and zeitgeisty references slide headlong into plaintive reflection, and up-to-date vernacular collides with traditional poetic construction.

This results in work which goes at a frantic pace, pinballing between metaphors and subject matter, tangent springing from tangent. Sentences power unstoppably onward, while gags and zeitgeisty references slide headlong into plaintive reflection, and up-to-date vernacular collides with traditional poetic construction. You can approach it in a couple of ways. Either you let it wash over you as pure page-bound song (which has a similar disorientating effect to skirting too quickly over the titles in a bookshop, with all their careful promises) or you can knuckle down and make an effort to follow the sense of the poem, which can be rewarding in the same way that completing a puzzle is rewarding. Take, for example, the opening few lines from the aforementioned 'Without words she is wonderful colour':

"I am embarrassed in clumsy skin,
like the raspberry-cheeked klutz
who pumped one out whilst marvelling
at Mother Natureís chapel-painted solemn landscape,
to be even raising it ..."

What with all the colour and naughtiness in the middle three lines, it takes at least a little concentration to realise that the fifth line continues right on from where the first left off.

The other effect of digging your heels in is to start to unlock Nunn's recurring concerns and uncover the poet in the middle of the whirlwind. He's often to be found staring out into a landscape, into water or sky, and taking in its detail, perhaps searching for something firm to hold onto. Strangely, the impression is often of a person eager for a kind of tranquility. Take this from 'Boom! Boom! Here comes autumn':

"Lord: it is time summer's lottery ceased.
Let winter's skin form upon the sundials ...

Rake your parental glove through the boughs
of shabby fruits ...
Spare them two more days from summerís trade,
urge them onto perfection, then nail down
their virginity into heavenly cider."

This poem also represents one of the few times in 88 pages Nunn slows down for a tyre change. You can have too much of a good thing and some readers may find the relentlessness of Nunn's style wearying. A necessary effect of all the ricocheting is also that while he covers a huge range of subjects smoothly - loss, changing seasons, the natural world, travel, industry, Birmingham - there is a sense that more thorough interrogation is missing. Finally, some of the alliteration is over-strained, coming perilously close to sounding like rapping:

"Out of the disreputable cowardly conceits
and colliding cannibalistic conspiracies
of the pale summer echoes carrying ...

'I love you my darling Abstract Emotion'

Thankfully, these instances are far rarer than those of Nunn coming up with fresh and zingy images like 'frail bambi-bright sun' and 'ground sacred with knotted bones'.

JS

dr f writes:

"Surprisingly attractive and noble chips"? "Swastikas of rain"? Don't tell me that there isn't some sort of weapon development programme going on here. Matt Nunn is 'sounding us out'. Somewhere, deep in a laboratory, he is recording every twitch and flinch his readers experience through microscopic nano-cameras embedded in the print, the better to eventually find the answers he's looking for. Enter his experiment at your own risk!