I feel that matt robinson (or Matt Robinson, if you prefer) is one of those names I see around a lot, a reoccurring float in the parade of literary journals that find their way into my house. It was with that in mind that I picked up his first poetry collection, A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking, wondering how a poet’s work that has been published so widely in the “little magazines” will hold up when assembled together in a book. There was an added element of intrigue: like me, Robinson is a Maritimer and writes about various familiar locales.
Ruckus is broken up into five sections, each with a distinct thematic focus. While the first section did leave me a touch underwhelmed from its listless pretensions, the collection as a whole is very strong. Robinson covers familiar subject matter for Canadian poetry – the dying mother, the weather, hockey, airport travel (this peculiarly Maritime anxiety about moving just one province over) – but does so with fresh insights and a descriptive power all his own. I love his “zamboni’s liquid absolution”, his “black morning with its pink/ meniscus dawn”, his “importance/ of purple at easter”.
Robinson’s strength lies in his employment of the cento (or, at least, the semi-cento) in a number of these poems. The patchwork selections include lines from Michael Ondaatje, John Ashbery, Susan Goyette and Don MacKay. Robinson has a real knack for taking these borrowed lines from other poems and giving them a muscled, kinetic life of their own.
Often a poetry collection can be judged a success if it possesses even one poem that makes you stop and read it over and over (and over) again. For me, A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking had this: the Goyette semi-cento entitled “a move to liquid”. Ostensibly about injuring oneself while doing the dishes, this poem is really about the unexpected pain that can erupt from even the most quotidian of moments. It’s about the wear and tear that our everyday comforts endure over time, to the point of stress, to the point of breaking, and how they do break in a not-entirely unexpected way, the “sudden ceremony” of a shattered glass, interrupting the “murky pools of our days” and leaving us cut and hurting. The poem is a masterpiece.