Pigeons and Peace Doves by Matthew J. Hall

Reviewed by Grant Tarbard

Matthew J. Hall is the author of a few self­-published poetry collections, including From the Depths and Through the Madness and In the Bleak Hours. Now comes his Blood Pudding Press 2015 prize-winning chapbook, Pigeons and Peace Doves.

The cover depicts an assemblage art pigeon with women’s stockinged legs for a tail, Monty-Python-­esque, and a fan of folded paper for a wing: a poem in itself. The chapbook is bound with stray braided angel’s feathers, or the ends of the aged beard of Blackbeard, tangled with doubloons.

‘She Sedates the Rhino’ is a delicate love poem with a touch of entrails added to the full bloom of flower heads. The eponymous Rhino (nightmare) melts when touched by love. It’s not at all hackneyed, a fine poem.

‘The City is Sad and Angry’ is a mixed bag. In the first two stanzas, the angry

aching muscle and bone
I can hear it creaking with each step I take
in this god­forsaken city
hiding its anger behind art and music festivals

snarls and scratches right through ornate brickwork, but the final two stanzas shoehorn in the ‘sad’;

if I catch him, can we keep him?
I asked
and she said
sweetheart; you already have

It’s the last line I have a problem with: it’s an emoticon, it’s trite, and the poem demands more of the poet.

I picture ’The Full Weight of My Head’ as a Man Ray short: when cutting the eyeball of the poem you find

the ants climbed from inside out
they were drawn by the scent
from the blood on my hands

This poem has the soul of the poet resting on the chest of the reader; “I liked listening to her heart / because it told the truth”.

Title poem ‘The Pigeons and Peace Dove’ is forgettable, almost a chore to read. With ‘Dear Confidence’ I strongly hear Ginsberg’s influence, but it has a couple of nice lines, although muddled, such as “opinions should be shy at conception / naive at birth, carefully formed and delicately nurtured”.

Writers will recognise themselves in the first stanza of ‘Do Not Consider the Poet’ (do not feed the animals, perhaps?)

he keeps his sincerity for the page
he is a thief
he will save up your smiles
and lock them into a paper prison”.

As much as the poem is a cliché of the poet as a bedevilled eloper and a lush – “he is obsessed with escape / he will drink too much at social gatherings” – I can see myself in this. Obviously Hall is judging himself by the stock image.

‘Many Shades of Brown’, about a moth, is well worked;

I wonder what the
moth had seen
where it had flown
how many light bulbs it had bounced

and ends with a lesson in mortality.

Altogether, this collection veers from beautiful poetry laden with dirty feathered ghosts to a stubbornly corny (dare I say it) vanity project, and back to the splendidly ethereal. Hall’s chapbook squeezes through the ephemeral elegance of life, nightmare and allure as one, down to the nitty­gritty. I look forward to his next collection: hopefully he’ll be stricter on himself, because his form of confessional and beat doesn’t really gel. He needs a hard-boiled editor.