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This review is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

STEPPING OUT John Matthias, A Gathering of Ways (Swallow) n.p.

Anyone initially unconvinced by John Mathias's prosody might try the experiment of reading his verses aloud while walking over open country. There is the same slight breathlessness - broken lines interspersed with deeper breathing pauses - which one experiences trying to maintain conversation with a just-slightly-fitter companion. A Gathering of Ways is a sequence of three long poems concerned with the topography, history and imagination of three places, East Anglia, the MidWest of America, and the pilgrim's way to Santiago de Compostela.

The opening 'East Anglian Diptych' re-introduces Matthias's powerful interest in historical and physical 'rhymes', prefigurations and echoes of places and times in which history as fact is deeply grained into history as place. The two panels of the diptych are concerned with the leys and with the rivers that mark out the landscape in a primitive simulacrum of the skies above. Zodiacal shapes and sudden bursts of Beltane fire recur throughout the sequence in a complex interplay of imagery abolit prognostication, warning, communication and violence. The landscape is possessed by gigantic, para-human shapes that either dissolve into 'mythology' or resolve into the shapes of modern industrial warfare. It's a remarkable tribute to Mathias's control that the ideational rhyme-scheme is not more cumbersome than it occasionally is, and that the verse sings something rather more tuneful than a mere versification of Pevsner or Alec Clifton-Taylor.

Matthias entrains two companions on his way: the spirit first of Edward Thomas, soon to be consumed in the ...


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