Tangled and Cleft: Poems by Matt Robinson

Tangled and Cleft is a subterfuge of hidden and double and triple meanings paired with a half glass of cool, dark bitter beer on the table beside you.

Matt Robinson’s poems make you stop and ask yourself if you’re sure you know what that word means until you find yourself rummaging for a dictionary. In fact, I strongly suggest it for the first of the collection’s poem against the dog’s passing, where Robinson does his damndest to describe all the different indescribable ways loss can feel after.

I read the poem Against the New Year’s Day Hangover shortly after the New Year much to my amusement. The new year does indeed feel weaponized, tenuous rhetoric pugnaciously weighing the pros and cons of the eyes’ newfound, ad hoc focus on what passes for promise.

The verses from Robinson delight me as he finds new ways to describe old things, twisting and turning and subverting meaning until that simple moment in a day contains multitudes, like how a once-connected thumb was dislocated and now aches.

Cat made me laugh at how well-described the antics of a feline could be, and how their “zoomies” and bloodthirst produce a lot of organic waste to dispose of.

The magic in these poems is how Robinson takes one moment or one feeling and breaks it down into everything encompassing that moment. In “Marriage”, the scowl on his face when he realizes his partner has left coffee pods on the counter in his way and all he wants is a chicken sandwich while he “forgets” all his own bad habits with keeping things clean and then also somehow yearning for her when she quietly moves from one room to another, yawning and humming.

Some of the poems take you right into the things that you don’t want to examine too much. Against the goddamn MCL made me all too aware of my own sore knee, much more aware of how it would feel to be an athlete done in by poor scaffolding. Nostalgia talks about the taste in the back of your throat when viewing a relationship back in its beginning and what’s still left to ruin.

Many of Robinson’s poems are against something, whether it’s a Zamboni or nostalgia or the AR-15 or the New Years Day hangover, but even in that language, you have to really think if he’s against the moment or if he’s fighting against it, or if he’s leaning against the moment as if leaning into memory and describing what he finds.

Against Ending was written for Gord Downie, which the poet remembers as the final concert and encore then eventual silence. I remember Gord Downie swearing loudly, his rage and fear bursting out all at once. The kindest thing Robinson could have given me as a poet is the reminder of the encore sending Downie away.

Matt Robinson previously published five full-length poetry collections, including Some Nights It’s Entertainment; Some Other Nights Just Work (2016), as well as numerous chapbooks. Robinson has won the Grain Prose Poetry Prize, the Petra Kenney Award and The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, among others. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his family.

Stephanie Sirois (they/them) is a writer, artist and journalist on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory. They spend their time reading, writing, making art and exhorting their family into playing board games with them.