In her biography Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig is described as an editor, a translator and a writer of flash fiction, reviews and essays, but if her debut pamphlet, kinscapes (Dreich, 2022), is anything to go by, she is also an intelligent and innovative poet who playfully pushes the boundaries of poetic form, with telling effect.
kinscapes as the title suggests is about togetherness and connection. Life is presented as both a shared experience and an experience to be shared. Take, for example, Matthews-Schlinzig’s highly personal prose-poem describing a miscarriage. Significantly, the tragic event is told in the plural first-person, ‘we’. The woman, who has lost the baby does not separate her feelings from those of her partner, neither when describing their shared joy at conception, nor when conveying the complex mixture of feelings at the moment of loss: ‘there we were,/ lying on the bedroom floor, the weight of disbelief/ wrought through with breathless thoughts’; ‘we were close, so close – and giddy’; ‘We told ourselves this might/ be normal – Google said so too’; ‘we felt guilty, so/ guilty’; ‘our eyes remained dry’. The poet draws no distinction between what the father and mother feel. This is not an individual experience, it is a mutual one. The poem ends with the doctor’s encouragement to try again, saying: ‘it is so common, isn’t it?’ Though this is a moment that has great personal significance, we are reminded here that it is not unique, that men feel the effects of miscarriage like women and that many other couples have experienced something similar. We should not think that such things happen only to us.
This knowledge that life is a shared experience can prove a source of comfort. In love origami the poetuses the extended metaphor of paper folding to explore the futility of our attempts to create perfect lives. She concludes: ‘all taken/ together that paper sculpture never/ looks as neat as the one pictured on/ those patterns.’ Attempts to shape our lives can prove frustrating and failure can result in feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Yet in the final line of the poem there is an acceptance that this is just the nature of life: it ‘is just as it should be’. She is able to be so at ease with this because: ‘we…look for assurance in the other, and beyond any doubts/ in our self – which disappear when/ you forget whose skin is whose, when/ thoughts align, and all is unforced/ form and familiarity’. Whilst we are unique individuals, there is comfort to be found in the knowledge that our experiences are similar to those of others. When we look around us, we see people like ourselves, who are engaged in the same struggles, who may share our thoughts and feelings. Failure lies not within us, or if it does, it is not unique to us. There may also be a suggestion here that an additional source of comfort may come from ‘togetherness’, or the empathy of others, from knowing that there are those who try to understand us, who seek the capacity to see the world from our perspective, to know what we’re thinking and to feel what we’re feeling: a quality Matthews-Schlinzig reveals herself in her poem Thinking of Brecht when she expresses her compassion for those asylum seekers losing their lives when braving the channel crossing: ‘Yet how can I write of those trees and/ compass points, while mothers, fathers, / daughters, sons are dying liquid deaths,/ the waves the only ones desirous of / their hopes, unwanted either shore?’
This capacity to see the world through others’ eyes, sharing their perception, is a characteristic of ekphrastic poems and given the poet’s interest in this notion, it is unsurprising that we find some poems of this type in the pamphlet. Perhaps the most interesting is Joan. It is a poem that both describes Joan Eardley’s painting Catterline in Winter, and imagines its creation. Significantly the poem is named after the artist rather than the work; the poet is signalling that Eardley is the real subject of the poem. Whilst the poem does share the effect of the work (Catterline in Winter | National Galleries of Scotland ) with the reader, it also explores what it must have been like to have created it. She writes: ‘the sea’s roar / spray/ salt’; ‘ splatters of ochre fires burn/ under a dirty yet not/ soulless moon (or is it still the sun? / / neither/ have warmth.’ The inventive use of white space and line breaks creates a sense of the poet looking at the painting and slowly making sense of it, impressions gradually fusing into a coherent view of the landscape. However, it also suggests the process of the artist herself, adding paint to create the detail that builds into the final picture. At the end of the poem the focus shifts away from the scene pictured in the painting to the artist herself: ‘ white squelching snow/ canvas surrounds you// its luminescence borrows from/ your eyes & hands// they’re cold/ & / everything is/// painfully//// apparent.’ It is as if the painting and artist and the landscape have become one: the canvas has been transformed by the artist and the artist transformed by the act of painting. The process of sharing the view of Catterline has bound landscape, canvas, artist and viewer together in an uncomfortable but ultimately illuminating relationship.
The effects of shared experience and sharing experiences are complex. We find another sort of sharing in the poem Tobi’s tales. Matthews-Schlinzig describes the daily routines shared with a pet dog. The relationship between owner and dog is described as a ‘togetherness’. It is one of constant accommodation: ‘We walk, discovering: you stop, I stop, and/ vice versa. We dance, wait for each other.’ In the image of the dance, there is a suggestion of an accord, a harmonious, productive relationship: their routines are enlivening, vitalising: ‘each time we step out, it remakes us’, even though they experience together both the ‘wondrous’ and the ‘frightful’. In doing so the poet reminds us of the strength we can derive from sharing experiences, from being connected, from experiencing a sense of togetherness, not only with other human beings, but with animals, and even with the natural world itself.
In a world in which new technologies increasingly undermine the social fabric of society and drive us towards isolation, kinscapes reminds us of the importance of togetherness, of the fact that we are not alone, that fulfilment lies in our relationships with others and the world around us. It consists of striking contemporary poems, layered in meaning that reward re-reading. Matthews-Schlinzig is a truly impressive talent
Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig writes poetry and flash fiction as well as, occasionally, reviews and essays. Her creative work has been published in print and online by Dreich, Nine Pens, Speculative Books, The Common Breath, and Visual Verse, among others. Recent publications include the pamphlet kinscapes and the poetry anthology The Joy of Living (both out with Dreich, 2022). In her day job, she is a freelance translator and editor. MIMS lives with her family in Dunfermline, Scotland. Copies of kinscapes are available from Dreich: https://hybriddreich.co.uk/product/kinscapes-marie-isabel-matthews-schlinzig/ .Signed copies are available from the author: get in touch via https://matthewsschlinzig.wordpress.com/contact/ or DM on Twitter (@whatisaletter), Instagram (@schicketanz_books)
AVAILABLE NOW ‘UNMUTED‘ by Nigel Kent!
Nigel Kent’s collection of ekphrastic poems, Unmuted (Hedgehog Poetry Press), is inspired by a gallery of famous works by artists from the present and the past. Each artwork acts as a frame in a storyboard which he unfreezes and unmutes to reveal the narrative he imagines lies behind it. Even for those who have no interest in art these direct, accessible and moving poems will stand alone and promise to engage with issues that truly matter.
“Kent’s poetry is succint, never bloated and always delivered with a poignant and very human point of view.” Priss Bliss, Dreich Broad No. 3
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