Silver Branch series:
Photos by: Abi Fellows 2022
Matt Gilbert is a freelance copywriter, who also blogs about place, books and other distractions at richlyevocative.net Originally from Bristol, he currently gets his fill of urban hills in South East London. He has had poems published in a wide variety of places, including: Anthropocene, Atrium, Black Bough, Briefly Write, Broken Sleep, Broken Spine, Cerasus, The Dawntreader (Indigo Dreams), Dreich, Fevers of the Mind, Flights, Green Ink, Ink Sweat & Tears, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Marble Poetry and Mono Fiction. Matt is also a former host of @TopTweetTuesday on Twitter and was a finalist in the #BBMicro competition run by Black Bough.
Shifting presence, unshaped,
spirits through rock;
the dancers stirred
by echoes and breath.
Red of earth, they quicken,
as depthless fluidities unleashed;
sleepers leap and
tears rise through granite
from the well of a pulsing duct.
Published in Black Bough's Deep Time project
Ink river, a thousand feet
below the night,
fill your starless pools,
dissolve all limestone words.
Chart a course of absence
down through chambers
of unmapped pages, where all
reflection must be reversed
Or lost –
press on, time-hollower,
glister at the first and last,
sparkle as you meet the sea.
Published in Black Bough's Deep Time project
Clawing under sickly yellow light, bramble tendrils writhe
with bindweed, pale trumpets issue soundless warnings
not to stray here, at this broken place, but they are ignored
by shadows leaking out, shambling down October streets.
This poem was a finalist in #BBMicro on Twitter
Rain at last, its absence swollen
into unfamiliar ache, deformed
these weeks of dry mouth heat,
Like a taunted dog, lawn grass growls,
refusing to perform, stays sullen
brown, liquid washing off its back,
Resistance broken by a scattering
of thirsty crocus, seasonally confused,
a grinning crowd of petalled teeth.
One sun-parched leaf lingers,
a comma between seasons, this
suspended point in time is not in fact
of autumn, but turned by summer heat,
too fierce to have been natural, ungreened
early, it hangs now like a warning
from a thread, surely crafted by a spider,
an accidental catch, although dead, the thing
is so useful as a symbol, it almost feels as if
it must be sprung from somewhere else.
Garden bag resurrection
A crumpled green face sags
beneath the hedge, revealing age lines
born of foliage, the clipped, dry stalk
death-mask of unwanted matter, except,
for a poke of desiccated cuttings,
where worker bees navigate a narrow gap,
one, two, three, they make their way inside,
reinventing space, bridging hope and ruin,
as each returns to greet a buried queen.
In the ash,
a rooted menorah,
Those woods on the ridge,
through the window,
if watched from a certain angle,
will roll over the roads,
untame the suburbs,
reclaim the shape
of old maps – all chimneys
and aerials can be bundled away,
with a half-hunched flick of the head,
church spire and estate put out of sight,
sent to the back of the mullion,
by the turn of your face,
before every storey of the block to the east,
is pushed from the frame,
the people swept off their feet,
so that all city crows,
the pigeons, the starlings
can safely be recast as rural,
in a tidy, green scene that never existed,
not like this, not like this.
Wall versus Tree
Struggling to flash
a not quite rainbow
years after going up),
onto its crumpled face,
old wall juts out
- a random tooth,
sprung from gummy soil,
beside an abandoned railway line,
- seems to speak of loss and gain,
while a grasping oak’s snake roots,
slowly tear the bricks apart,
the tree lives, but is so severely pollarded,
bark stripped, sap bled,
it might be said
to welcome death itself.
All colour bled out,
all shape vague,
I awake into the soup
dragged by noises I recall
I should find fearful –
a high-pitched droning whine,
which for the little fly behind it,
may well be a love song,
but for me trips a terror
of tiny bites, the signal to flap
hands, panic, an awkward reminder,
that in the end, I am not nearly big enough
to cherish every other creature of this earth.
A trip to the electric islands
Must have sounded modern once, The Electric Café. Its wavy, swirl-tailed, painted signpost lettering, a reflection of a thrusting world, last century, or the back-end of the one before.
Today, the café’s charm persists through facing backwards. Nothing fancy, this is a proper old school, greasy spoon, still serving bubble, along with bacon, eggs, mushrooms and the rest. You pay in cash. You may plump for a generous mug of tea, or filter coffee if you want it, but the classic drink is instant coffee, topped with frothed boiled milk – drawn from a slender, stainless-steel hot tap, set into the counter.
Each brown, formica-topped table in here’s an island, within a scattered archipelago – connected with its neighbours through shared hungry purpose, though fiercely independent. Every border post, enforced by the glass screen of a mobile phone, or less common now, the rustle of a fast-flicked tabloid. Plastic bottles of generic brown and red sauce, stand sentinel – lost modernist bishops, wandered far from chessboard.
When someone rattles through the door, they sometimes look confused, peering at the breakfast options, or touching hands to mouths, uncertain. If a regular, they’ll get a nodded ‘alright’ from the proprietor Stav. If not, most nervously approach the till, eyes clutching at the menu, but some retreat, befuddled, straight back out to Norwood Road.
For someone half-obsessed with goodbyes, with loss, I love this place for its arrivals. Big plates brought out, piled with freshly fried ingredients, ready to deliver twenty-minute hits of melting salt-fat comfort and yolky potato, before recipients must scrape back their chairs and return, reluctant, to the mainland once again.
"Matt Gilbert's writing marvels in the spirit of place; his poetry wanders, camera-like, along overgrown tracks through woods, riverbanks, wastegrounds that are rewilding; he takes us on journeys to greening edgelands that spill into urban decay. Gilbert 's eye pans, then zooms in, on the minutiae that most of us ignore, the neglected details of our physical environment. Matt Gilbert is a descriptive, modern poet of nature with a scalpel-like pen and eye for the arresting image as he quietly transcribes, always searching for the near-perfect word and phrase. He plunges us into deep time, recording mysterious odysseys into the places, traces and symbols of the ancient past."
Matthew M. C. Smith
Photo credit: Sam Gilbert
Harlow’s northern edge
This bridge might be a translocation
from a multi-storey car park, dropped
here, to become an unofficial dream, ripped
from the words of Richard Mabey, perched
above the blur lands between countryside and town,
suspended near the Stort – a concrete walkway
zig-zags sharply over congealed water, densely fringed
with alder, urgent ash, lurking in an algae green zone
between A414 and river, where, along with fish and frogs,
a heron could be stalking zombies, but beneath its dragonfly
prowled surface, the only sign of life is a winking silver prow,
a square holed wreck, once host to weekly shopping,
never meant for sailing, not yet lost to rust.
In Matt Gilbert's own words
"Whilst I can’t lay claim to a comprehensive, personal poetic manifesto, I do have an approach of sorts. Like many others, since a very young age, I’ve loved the natural – or more than human – world. For almost as long, I’ve been fascinated with ghosts, the supernatural and with a sense of place. Since childhood, I’ve also been quite anxious (though, these days I’m better at hiding it).
Often, when trying to write a poem, I aim to bring these elements together. I don’t apply this as a strict formula: bird + landscape + weird + angst = poem, but I do find that a mix of these things can provide an interesting way in. Which is helpful in attempting to find an alternative, intriguing angle – let’s face it, the poetry world is not exactly short of middle-class white men, sighing over waves and oaks and robins.
I find a sense of the eerie and unease about a place (usually in a city or a suburb), or the sudden appearance, or absence of a plant or creature, excites me. These are feelings and situations I tend to want to share – whether I encountered them directly, or made them up. The unease aspect, I find is increasingly heightened by concerns over climate disaster and habitat loss.
Once I’m on to a potential subject, I start to play. By ear mostly - my technical skills are not the best, although I’m trying to sharpen these through reading. Beyond that, I guess I want what all writers want – to share a feeling, an idea, a vision – and through the crazy magic of a few well-crafted words, get someone else to smile, or nod, or even shed a tear."
Matt Gilbert, September 2022.