John Matthias: Trigons
Published 15 May 2010
Paperback, 108pp, 9x6ins, £8.95 / $16
Trigons derives its title from an obscure Roman ball game mentioned by Petronius in Satyricon. The word also has meanings in the fields of music, astrology, gemology, architecture, poetics, and comic book illustration, all relevant to this book that is sub-titled "Seven Poems in Two Sets and a Coda." Trigons shares something of the same spirit as Matthias's two most extravagantly inventive experimental sequences, Automystifstical Plaice and Pages: From a Book of Years. In an essay on Matthias's cycles and sequences from the 1970s through the present, Mark Scroggins has said that Trigons explores the poet's "usual historical and literary obsessions, this time revolving much around the Second World War" through a series of surprising juxtapositions like that between the Nazi Rudolph Hess and his contemporary the English pianist Myra Hess, or the discovery made during the book's composition of yet another John Matthias, this one a British composer and neurophysicist" who becomes a shadowing doppelgänger in this book in which both music and neurology play a highly significant role. Trigons "shows no lack of the high spirits that have underpinned so much of Matthias's work, but its puns, jokes, and intentional incongruities are underpinned by a deep seriousness, a pervading sense that while history continues to produce connections in inexhaustible richness, it does so in counterpoint to a continual savage, tragic wastage of life and potential. Trigons moves quickly—indeed, leaving behind the careful concern for closure that has marked Matthias's earlier 'pocket epics'—and the poem seems at every moment to be on the verge of shaking itself to pieces with its own concatenated momentum, like one of Jean Tinguely's self-destructive kinetic sculptures. And this is not a quirk of Matthias's poetics: as the Englishman Haines says in Ulysses, 'it seems history is to blame.' Experiences of grace, of happiness, are ephemeral moments in the relentless, remorseless, temporal succession of heterogeneity that is human life and culture." In the end, the book manifests a "fierce impatience, a barely-concealed rage at the all-too-rapid movement of the human spectacle."
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