Waffles by Matthew Welton
-Reviewed by John McGhee-
Welton’s Waffles declares itself a construction.
Eighteen poems, three by six, exactly twelve lines
exactly twelve syllables in each – constructed
‘with phrases’, ‘with stencil’ and ‘with six principles’
in turn. The reader senses Welton’s methods of
variation, combination, permutation.
Bias declared: I thought Welton’s second collection
We needed coffee but we’d got ourselves convinced…
(full title goes on for over one hundred words)
was inventive, and entirely necessary,
worth reading for the sequence ‘Dr Suss’ alone:
‘I don’t know why you have to bring Rene Descartes
into it; I mean, I don’t know why you have to
bring Rene Descartes into it.’ Oulipo-like,
Welton’s techniques are deployed deftly in Waffles.
In ‘Construction with Phrases’, echoes chase echoes.
‘The monkey in the mind allows the day to cool’
‘The mind’s a kind of monkey with its teeth all gone’
‘with love and logic, from the monkey in the mind.’
(Returned-to images of a Zen monkey-mind?)
This puzzle-pamphlet puts one in mind of Perec
saying ‘puzzling is not a solitary game’.
Welton’s rules sit, Jaws-like, just below the surface.
The effect is one of intricate conjuring
but with a weak magician, the mark wants to guess
the secrets of each trick. The best magicians know
their audiences are happy to leave bemused.
There’s no hunger to solve Waffles’ rules and echoes.
Best to revel in it its rhythms and flamboyance:
‘the gutsy grouchy slouchy kid checks through his notes’
‘the blueberries bruise. A yellow yaffle snaffles up
a pile of apple waffles and, I’d like to think
takes comfort from my distant uninsistent thoughts’.
Waffles’ language is everyday, not exotic,
its repetitions are far from mechanistic,
its effects, although strange, never err to cryptic.
Though the experimental can be cold and arch,
and these echoes – is there emotion and heart in
combination, permutation, variation?
There is. Concerns, profound: solipsism, coffee,
the nature of reality and how we know
what we (think) we know. He (uncertainly?) asserts:
‘The milk jug’s real. The phone call’s real. My gut-ache’s real’
‘Milkshake is real. Musk-rats are real. Mustard paste’s real’
‘Afters are real. Posters are real. Sandpits aren’t real.’
There’s ‘a girl’, ‘a heap of people’, ‘a mailman’ but
Waffles’ world is underpopulated, I guess:
‘Real people keep me guessing, and my train’s just gone.’
‘A muddled mind’ when it comes to reality,
classification borders the arbitrary.
Words are sounds and thoughts. What are they? What are they for?
Each echo, another way to ‘deny my world’,
describing minds as misted, muted, muddled, met.
‘Exactly some exactly thing’ – exactly what?
To be is to be perceived, said Bishop Berkeley.
So unread books are equivalent to books read
and not remembered. Poets writing, not writing,
puzzles to be pondered over coffee – do we,
can we know what we (think) we (think) we (think) we know?
Waffles takes place in this, the author’s monkey-mind
and leads us to different ways of writing poems,
reading them. Construction as a writing method:
permutation, variation, combination.
2 thoughts on “Waffles by Matthew Welton”
construction lines’ constructed principles
of permutation collection convinced words
necessary alone Descartes to like Waffles’ echoes
cool gone mind mind Perec
game surface conjuring
guess know bemused echoes
flamboyance notes up think
thoughts’ exotic mechanistic cryptic arch
in variation coffee
know asserts real real real but guess gone
reality arbitrary for world met what
Berkeley read writing we know
mind poems’ method combination
I guess if you go for system poetry, as it used to be called, you’d go for Inger Christensen too. I do. I cannot help but recommend her work.
But the ‘feel’ that Matthew Welton can whip around his work is nothing short of magical.
I haven’t read this one yet – looking forward to it.
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