The poems of Matt Howard’s Broadlands are grounded in the reedbeds, meadows and marshes of the Norfolk Broads. They are closely and thrillingly observed from real encounters, inviting us closer to the more-than-human world, its violence, fragility and wonder. Yet the human is always and all the more present; here too are poems of desire, love and grief.
They are poems of the field, imaginings from the conservation of habitats restored and created, working with and for all their constituent species - for we now live in times where everywhere is in some part within the gift of the habitat of the human heart and mind.
Rooted in their locale, but ever ranging elsewhere, to midwives on St Kilda, the Wordsworths and their cuckoo clock in Grasmere or with a virtuoso sedge warbler, singing in a patch of Norfolk reedbed of all the places we share, mimicking the songs of companion species, across continents, deep time and flyways with ‘the cosmic web condensed in his head’.
Redefining what a sense of place might mean, the generous and intimate lyric energy of Broadlands rises from a labour committed, ‘set on this floating ground’.
Broadlands is Matt Howard’s second collection, following his debut Gall (2018) from The Rialto, which won the inaugural Laurel Prize for Best First Collection and the 2018 East Anglian Book Award for Poetry and was also shortlisted for the 2019 Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Prize.
‘Matt Howard brings a naturalist's precise eye to bear on the reedbeds and "fen stink" of his native Norfolk. The world that emerges from his marvellous poems does so like a dragon fly from its larval case - strange, fresh, intensely vulnerable. His deep-rooted knowledge of this part of the world lights up poem after poem like the stand of yellow iris he describes in a "manky" stretch of the River Yare. These are poems of hard-won rapture - I came away from reading them grateful for their insights and full of “a new sense of things”.’ – Esther Morgan
‘Matt Howard knows his subjects intimately, and has a gift for illuminating the most fragile and precarious among them, such as the fen raft spider and the ‘niche and otherness’ of its mating rituals. All human life is part of the same fabric, and these poems shine with insight into our loves and griefs, our capacity for cruelty and joy. In spite of everything, that sense of true belonging in the world is felt “in every part of me, singing”.’ – Jean Sprackland
‘Some creatures in Broadlands most likely have never been taken into poetry before. Little local lives are here everywhere present – lives knelt to and felt under fingertips – the eggs of a wren hidden in a leaf-dome nest in a bramble tangle. Matt Howard’s way of seeing, and his plain and yet charged writing of his attentiveness, yields poems that are proof – the finest I’ve seen recently – that poets might be the best nature-writers of our times. Matt Howard’s poems know that nature’s own writing – how a wren lives, say – will never be the same as our writing of nature. The wonder-soaked seeing and lovable cautious modesty of this collection is highly intelligent as to the gap between nature and nature-writing, but its poems make that same gap narrower than it is in almost any other comparable contemporary book.’ – Tim Dee
From the reviews of Gall:
‘Gall…is wonderfully achieved. It makes a remarkably pure and open and honest collection of poems that you feel had to be and which the poet has released with the lightest but surest of touches. I recommend it to all… I’ve read plantations of new poetry in the last decade and I have rarely encountered such a self-fruited or ungrafted voice.’ – Tim Dee in Caught By the River
‘A bold and wide-ranging first collection, Gall has an acute feel for the rhythms of language and the natural world, often startling in its perception and imagination of lives other than our own, in a distinctively East Anglian landscape. A significant new voice in contemporary poetry. Overall, for the sheer technical range and imagination of the work, Gall is the winner of this year's East Anglian Poetry Prize.’ – Tiffany Atkinson, judge of the East Anglian Book Awards Poetry Category 2018.
‘These are poems which will open and deepen with re-reading. The internet can provide the pleasure of knowing exactly what a Norfolk hawker might look like, but you can trust this poet: it’s sunlight on the nodes of its forewing you’d notice.’ – Jane Routh, The North
The cover photograph of Broadlands is by wildlife photographer Pete Walkden and shows a cuckoo chick being fed by a meadow pipit.
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