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This review is taken from PN Review 164, Volume 31 Number 6, July - August 2005.


For British and Irish admirers of John Matthias, New Selected Poems is a welcome companion volume to the two long poems collected in Working Progress, Working Title, also published by Salt (2002), 'Automystifstical Plaice' and 'Pages: From a Book of Years'. The pairing of those two poems productively juxtaposed Matthias's abiding preoccupation with the artist's reception and understanding of historical data (in this case, the recherché fact that Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil conceived the idea of a radio-directed torpedo in the early years of the twentieth century), and the no less hermeneutic issue of the creative rendering of one's immediate lived experience (his mother's succumbing to Alzheimer's disease).

With the exception of these two recent works, the present volume provides a generous sampling of Matthias's poetry, in both its short forms and longer sequences. Excluding early examples of the latter, such as the long poems from Bucyrus and the Bathory and Lermontov cycles (all included in Beltane at Aphelion: Longer Poems, if you can find a copy), it reprints the title poem of Northern Summer (1984), the three major sequences from A Gathering of the Ways (1991), and the title poem of the fugitive chapbook Swell (2003). A rumination on Hemingway, among others, this recent poem quotes Matthias's early mentor, John Berryman, advising the younger poet: ...

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