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This review is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

OUT OF PLACE JOHN MATTHIAS, Working Progress, Working Title (Salt) £8.95

For many of his most passionate readers, John Matthias will always be a poet of place. His long topographical poems - `An East Anglian Diptych', `Facts from an Apocryphal Midwest', `A Compostella Diptych' - have inspired much commentary and have merited every bit of it. Such poems place the contemporary experience of a specific landscape in the context of the history of the region, revealing unexpected rhymes among the events that have occurred in a given space. Allusive, fact-packed, rich in specific dates, resonant with proper names, and tremendously ambitious, they have been both the means by which Matthias has made himself feel at home in particular landscapes and the means by which he has made himself existentially at home in the world. Readers who love this side of Matthias' work may be surprised by his most recent book, Working Progress, Working Title. The two long poems that make up the book, `Pages from a Book of Years' and `Automystifstical Plaice', seem oddly placeless.

Such surprise isn't really warranted, though. The new poems grow from a branch of Matthias' work just as well established as his poetics of place: the poetic exploration of texts and historical archives. Matthias has always been interested in investigating texts in the same way he investigates landscapes. He has been an adventurous reworker of found or archival materials, notably in the poems of the 1975 collection Turns. Here, Matthias enters a text and sounds out its parts, reworking them into new grammatical ...


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