The Poet’s House
The house he lived in has been sold.
Expect some gentle haunting. The ghosts
of a marriage in hoarded plastic bags,
whispering books packed on study shelves.
Surely the floorboards still remember
the warm reverberations of music he loved:
Vaughan-Williams for sweetness, Beethoven
for bad moods, Wagner when angry
and Schubert Lieder for love.
The wallpaper holds shreds of conversations
talking poetry for hours because it mattered.
On the wall drawings friends had made,
a terracotta hare to remind him of Cowper
a windowsill full of model ships never sailed
but unfurled to sing him gull songs,
honour his father. The crossword’s half done,
the chess set laid out but uncontested.
Every time I remember him, my own ghost
hovers for a moment in the space I used to sit,
Matt expansive in his favourite chair
conjuring me a welcome with hugs and coffee.
Lucky the new owners, inheriting
so much love crammed under roof tiles.
Bring in the new furniture, set free the piano
listen out for poems writing themselves
onto air, syllables chuntering in the dark.
This poem is from the sequence Catching On to be launched by Rack Press in February 2011 in London. I hope Matt would have liked these poems. Writing them has certainly helped me to part with him, and I don’t suppose I will ever have a friend like that again. But for 36 years, I was blessed.
14 responses to “A poem from my forthcoming elegaic sequence for Matt Simpson”
I agree – beautiful. I look forward to reading it in it’s entirety.
Back in the 80s, following his retirement from Sir John Deane’s, I was acquainted with the late Robert Westall, probably the most exciting children’s writer of his day. Reading Matt Simpson for the first time now (thanks to your Incwriters post), his poem ‘Homecoming’ reminds me of Bob’s tales of Tyneside during the Blitz, such as ‘The Machine Gunners’. And I wonder how far the parallels run, between Matt’s work and Bob’s?
I find ‘The Poet’s House’ very touching. I remember the house in Winnington that Bob left behind – Victorian, mid-terraced, with massive chimneys in dizzying silhouette against the racing clouds. Cold and musty, vacant. But with a sense of Bob everywhere, even in the dust motes streaming from the landing skylight.
I look forward to publication of ‘Catching On’.
I had the priviledge of meeting Robert Westall just once, after his retirement from John Deane’s, when he came to speak to the writers’ group I was then part of. He was a wonderful writer and a really generous man, muct like Matt. I think they were of a generation – Matt was born in 1936, and they were both true to their northern backgrounds. Robert did much to develop children’s fiction and writing books that were exciting and well crafted. I am glad you like the poem; I am very pleased with the sequence of 10 poems and the booklet will only be £4, but it is a limited edition of 150 copies, though it will eventually be included in my next full collection. Writing the sequence has really helped me. I had all the poems in draft in notebooks so it was rewarding to polish them to a standard Matt would have hopefully approved of. This particular one came easily.
You must live or have lived near me. I live in Hartford, Northwich.
this poem made me cry – I never knew Matt but I’ve known such love.
You would have liked Matt, I am sure. But I am pleased by your comment because I want the book to have a wide appeal and comfort all bereaved people. I think it is a poet’s job to articulate things that are difficult so others can be comforted/moved/amused/included/warmed/recognised and recognising.
Nice to read it again, but I missed your voice reading it aloud!
I live in Moulton, so we’re practically neighbours!
Bob was born in 1929 (in North Shields), so he and Matt were near contemporaries. I knew Bob from his days as a part-time antiques dealer in Davenham. He had a little upstairs sales room overlooking the cobbled forecourt of the Bull’s Head. I’d find him polishing brass ornaments surrounded by his clocks, all ticking and whirring with merry musicality. With his silver mane and famous beard, Bob was a big bluff man with a voice that someone once described as “dark brown”. He was an original, a one-off, one of those rare people – like Matt, I’m sure – who colour the world around them and make it a more interesting place for the rest of us. Thoughtful, grittily humorous, a wonderful raconteur, he was always ready to talk to someone with an intelligent interest in his work, and I was simply swept along on the tide. He died suddenly, at the height of his powers, in 1993, aged 63.
I’d so love to acquire ‘Catching On’ when it comes out next month, but realise I’ll have to be quick off the mark!
If you would like to meet me, perhaps you would want to attend an event I organise at The REd LIon in Hartford. The first one is on 19th January, the actual reading/open floor starts at 8pm and entry is £4. But if you write at all, I am doing a poetry workshop from 6-7pm beforehand at the additional charge of £5. The pub does a meal menu for £5.50 so some people will be eating there.
The one time I met Robert, we went to the pub afterwards and he took me aside and gave me lots of brilliant advice about writing – I have never forgotten the things he said. I think he knew how serious I was about writing! I had forgotten the antique dealing. I know many people remember him fondly and I was always warmed by the memory of our meeting.
I will have copies of Catching On after the launch and will save one for you. I have several full length books out as well, and more coming.
Hi Angela – nice to know you remember your meeting with Bob so warmly. Matt was obviously another very special guy – thanks for saving me a copy of ‘Catching On’. See you at the Red Lion on the 19th – I’ll be along for the reading at 8pm. Looking forward to it.
It will be lovely to meet you. Make yourself known to me please. I will kick off the reading and run the night. Any requests for a reading? I might have my other book by then, the chapbook from Salt, called I Sing of Bricks, which has 6 poems about Matt in. I believe it is at the printers now.
Robert Westall made a great contribution to children’s fiction, and I think he was also highly regarded as a teacher. I was a teacher myself for 20 years. It’s not an easy balancing act.
We sort of met at your joint event with Jo Bell at Northwich Library before Christmas. You very kindly likened my post-it poem to John Clare writing about his first love! But it’ll be nice to meet you properly at the Red Lion next week.
It’s an interesting point you raise about the teaching/writing balance. I found it impossible to write creatively as a social housing manager dealing with homelessness and anti-social behaviour and so on; simply didn’t have the mental freedom, the time or the energy. Having taken early-retirement, I’m attempting a first novel – rather hopeful, perhaps, at the age of 63, but nothing ventured and all that. Progress is at a snail’s pace because now there’s a new balance in operation – the family duties/writing balance, with much time spent looking after grandchildren and so on. (I’ve five wonderful grandchildren and a sixth on the way!) Still, even at a snail’s pace the pages mount up; I’m about two thirds through a chaotic first draft and enjoying it hugely.
Now then, requests for the reading. Something about Matt is a must of course, perhaps ‘The Poet’s House’. Something by Matt as well, please (I’m sure no one could read him better than you, being so familiar with his voice); how about ‘My Grandmother’s African Grey’ (terrific punch line). One of yours I’d like to hear again (a Christmas poem but much more than that) is ‘And Bob’s Your Uncle’.
See you on the 19th and maybe we’ll find a few minutes to chat.
Ah, I should recognise you then as I seldom forget a face. Thanks for the reading suggestions and for saying I could read them close to the way Matt did. That is great news about the novel. See you on 19th!
First review of Catching On is up on the Bow Wow Shop online journal. Do check it out. I admit to being puzzled by it.