My copy of this book was kindly sent to me by the publishers, Matador, in return for an honest review.
I do not know Matthew Rhodes. At least, I think I don’t, that we’ve never met in real life. Yet, in most of his poems he wanders through grounds that are familiar to me, both geographically (for instance, the Midlands), emotionally (his love of Nature and the feeling of peace and belonging he derives from it), and linguistically and semantically. These are poems about life as it is, recounting episodes of the quotidian which, however, like all poetry, lend themselves to extraneous interpretations.
The poet talks about his observations as much as about things and moments he knows well and holds dear, for instance the scenery sliding past as the train he’s travelling in departs from Stafford station, or the views of mountains from a house patio, of the feeling of rootedness Nature affords him — so much so that many of his metaphors (and metonyms) are mostly taken from Nature. But he also talks about his feelings and impulses, and about the moments and events he lives through and observes. As he tells us in his book’s preface, some people take photographs, some do sketches and paintings: he writes. Poetry.
Take for instance the poem that lends its title to the book, Bathing Strictly Prohibited, where the poet tells us of coming face to face with a sign prohibiting bathing in a lake — and then proceeding to strip down and dive, much to the bemusement of others, who just idle slowly past. It is a story of transgression, of venturing where one is not supposed to go, do things that are not conventional or allowed. Is Matthew Rhodes simply recounting that moment in his day? Did he really dive into the forbidden lake, or is he talking about something else, much broader? A philosophy of life, maybe, in this case? Elsewhere in the book, the same type of questions will apply, as for instance to his lemon tree on the patio metaphor.
There are many moments of sheer beauty, passages where the imagery is dreamy, almost idyllic; others where it goes so deep into the roots of being that we feel as if those moments were ours. And it’s exactly on those moments that we are most thankful Rhodes sees the world through the eyes of a poet, rather than, for instance, the lens of a camera. His book leaves two fantastic metaphors with me, I suspect for a very long time. Thank you, Matthew Rhodes, for your lake, and for your lemon tree.
Verdict: a good read