Poet Puzzlers – Matt Nicholson

This week’s puzzled poet is a true gentleman, and we know this because we met whilst navigating the outer rim of galaxy 2471a. There in the depths of space, rapidly leaking oxygen due to an impromptu game of knifey-handy, Matt ‘the terror of Tenturion 7’ Nicholson fashioned a repair kit using only moisture from his suit and space dust. He’s also got a wonderful new book out called ‘Small Havocs’, and was due to be our next guest (after the lockdown hopefully he’ll still come and perform his balloon animal and poetry extravanganza for us).

  • If you had to be an insect, which would you be and why?

That’s an easy one…and my answer is very specific…I would be the actual wasp that flew into my open mouth while I walked in the late summer sun a couple of years ago and proceeded to sting the inside of my bottom lip. And why?…Because as the wasp me I could fly into a house and land/sit on the bottom stair and have a really good hard think about what I did…and, if possible, once the wasp me was ready to go and find the human me, I would give the wasp me the disembodied voice of the late Johnny Morris, so that the wasp me could give the human me a well thought out, heart-felt apology, just before the human me smashed the wasp me into a billion tiny pieces.

  • What did you want to be when you were at school?

I never really had a childhood vocation fantasy…predominantly, all I wanted to be when I was at school was to be not at school…It was only when I started to focus on writing in my 30’s and 40’s that any kind of longer term goals settled in and became a focus for me.

  • What was/were the last good poetry book/s you read?

There are so many mind-bendingly good poetry books around, but the last one I read that really swallowed me up was ‘Deaf Republic’ by Ilya Kaminsky…a good friend loaned it to me with the caveat “dunno if this is your kind of thing…” but when I read it, I fell right into it…read it 3 times, one after the other, and found something new in it each time. Unhelpfully, I’m not sure I can tell you exactly what  liked about it, and I’m not sure I can tell you in any sensible way what it’s about or what it means, but I can definitely say it was a total immersion experience, a full on beating by a relentless gang of sensations and emotions, and that is my measure of what makes a great poetry book.

  • Do you have a favourite place, and if so where/what is it?

I don’t have one favourite place, but I do have some favourite scenarios and by definition they have places at their centres. I love spending a day at a Test Match, when money and weather permit, and I can lose myself in the most boring day’s play in an almost meditative/spiritual way. I love the east coast of Yorkshire, be it Fraisthorpe, or further north at Saltburn by the sea. There is something hypnotic about the sea and the forces that shape a coastline. And I love a dining table, surrounded by friends or family (maybe not a mixture of both) and loaded with a Sunday roast and plenty of wine and laughter.

  • Do you have a hidden skill or talent?

Hmmm…I think, like most poets and performers, I have an innate ability to start a quarrel in an empty room, but if you mean can I secretly juggle crocodiles, or recite the Bible in Flemish, then no…

  • Is it fair to say that your work can be quite political? And if so, can you tell us more about the influence of the political on your work?

I’m definitely not a party-political writer…I don’t rant about tax cuts or welfare reform in the specific…But I think it’s impossible not to be moved by the political currents, the broader brushstrokes that affect being alive today. I did a Philosophy degree in my 20’s and the concepts of morality and justice, and the need for strong and constructive dialogue and argument, are very important to me. I’m also very secular in my thinking and my own morality, so there is plenty that goes on in this world that I like to rail against; lame-brained American presidents, fascism, and religious privilege, by way of examples.

  • What would be your preferred way to dispose of a body?

If we’re talking about my own body and if anyone needs any instructions for this, then I would suggest that a chipper seems most appropriate, followed by digging the resultant paste/smoothie into a nice patch of soil in the woods somewhere. If we’re talking about someone else’s body, I’m not very practical, not good at DIY type things, so couple that with a desire to respect the person that once inhabited the cadaver, I would probably google a company to come and take the body away.

  • If a train leaves Southampton traveling at 75mph, and another train leaves Manchester at 69mph, given that the universal constant is something I don’t understand, how high is up?


  • (This question comes from John Foggin) Clive James said that we live in a in a time when almost everyone writes poetry, but scarcely anyone can write a poem. He writes about ‘slim volumes by the thousand…full of poetry…but few….with even a single real poem in them’. Wotcher think about that?

The process of writing poetry is attritional, iterative, and one that definitely requires hard work and developing experience to see progression, so I guess there is bound to be a lot of words that are unfinished, unrefined, a lot f unskilled work out there, ideas not polished enough or over-worked…but I reckon this quote from Clive James is about definitions of what a poem is, and his definition seems to suggest some kind of almost unachievable perfection is required to call some words a poem. By his own definition, his claim that there are very few poems in existence amongst gazillions of non-poems is probably right, but I think most writers try their best and every one of us knows we could do better and that desire to do better is what drives us on. I am wary of anything that creates obstacles for people to write poetry, or anything that prevents creativity being inclusive of all levels of skill or experience, so I reckon, whilst this is an interesting quote, it may also be a quite dangerous one too

  • Do you have a book, event, project, invention, armadillo, anything you’d like to tell us about?

My new Poetry collection, Small Havocs, was released into the world a week before lockdown hit, and it’s a book of short poems about the Small Havocs, the trials and tribulations, the moments and the feelings that challenge us in our day to day lives, in more normal times. It deals with anxiety and struggle, albeit in relative abstraction, and it deals with feelings and experiences in the same way. I’m hoping that, once this particularly large scale havocs passes off into the realms of history, I can go about sharing/selling this book at as many great poetry events as I can, including Puzzle Poets.

  • Could you give us a question to ask another poet?

Do you think we only write poems because we are too lazy to commit the time and effort required to write a novel?

Matt Nicholson is an East Yorkshire poet. He has just launched his 3rd collection, Small Havocs, which explores, in short-form poems, moments and snapshots of the hopes, dreams and disruptions that make up all our lives. As with his two previous collections, Small Havocs has been warmly received with critical acclaim for its range and Matt’s singular voice. So, whether you experience Small Havocs from the page, or at one of Matt’s hard-hitting performances, be ready to lose yourself in everything from the dark and the sinister, to the tenderness and the humanity of modern lives fashioned from Small Havocs.

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