Book Review : Everyone is Waiting for Tomorrow, by Matt Duggan (Liverpool: erbacce 2021)
by Lorna Wood
Matt Duggan has always used his poetic voice to awaken us to the horrors of our postindustrial wasteland, including its roots in historical imperialism and repression, its parallels and underpinnings in our own mythic imaginations, and its vulnerable antitheses—kindness, humanity, the natural world and its independent beings. In Everyone is Waiting for Tomorrow, he continues to explore the world we have made for ourselves, but now with more insistent searching for a way out—the “tomorrow” we are all “waiting for,” which, whatever it brings, will at least translate us forward in time. Though inspired by the enforced captivity of the pandemic, as well as our deteriorating environment, the poems in this volume also look backward in time as well as outward, to foreign countries and to space, and toward the future, death, imagined both as drowning and as a celestial achievement of detached perspective. The collection thus acquires an epic sweep. Each poem evokes its own world, with its own lives and deaths, its own traps and escapes, its own rich but fleeting possibilities, yet all these worlds are linked by everyone’s waiting—all the private, public, historical, and naturally occurring cycles of hope and disappointment, the delusory perceptions of progress, the prophetic glimpses of death. The only escape—the “orbit” of death, represented more as a vision than an attainable state—likewise links us, guiding us with its otherworldly transcendence, to whatever scraps of salvation we can find.
Both as symbol and substance, water in these poems is central to all our mortal striving in ways that call to mind The Wasteland, and behind it The Tempest—“Those are pearls that were his eyes.” From the very first line of the collection, “What flows in the reservoir?” to its final image, “. . . we drink wine in a boat heading to a season in another world,” our inescapable dependence on this life-giving and death-dealing element is evoked as a natural and psychic boundary to mortal projects, one that accompanies us, at least as an image, into our orbital afterlife. At once superseding and subtending us, water, even as destroyer of life, defines our mortality by reminding us of our connections to the immortal, so “our immortality” becomes “a raised plank / hidden underneath / waters we once walked.” Our limited egocentric voyages, wrecked and drowned, are subsumed, seemingly preserving only a hopeful trace that no longer strives, but only exists—perhaps to keep future travelers from drowning, perhaps only as an anonymous sign of our better selves, those that no longer struggle against nature. Similarly, the poetic persona’s experience of drowning in “Eulogy” is also a redemptive epiphany: “fixated eyes couldn’t speak, resharpening what we couldn’t conceptualize?” Like Shakespeare’s (and Eliot’s) eyes that become pearls, Duggan’s are transformed, but instead of alienating the drowned from the world, this fate opens us to a reality that our own conceptualizations blind us to, the reality we can only truly approach in the detachment of death, where we “see the truth.”
While water’s importance to nature, life, and journeying gives it a central place in his collection, Duggan does not short-change the power of other elements and even the most mundane experiences to interrupt or call attention to our destructive cycles. Yes, we are greedy, as evoked in “Exodus,” which ends with humanity nihilistically poised to consume “spoons of existence.” But in this collection, as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, our very decadence is at once a spur to questing after something better and a sensual force in its own right that insistently moves us toward our roots in a mythic, legendary, and historic past, and in the power of nature, both around and inside us. Despite its corruption, life is therefore to be celebrated. Duggan’s richly evocative imagery often does so to the fullest, as in the escapist journeying of “Antibes,” “where a fairy in emerald leads you— / through a spectrum of luminous streets. . . .” At other times, though, images turn in the course of the poem. They transmute characters, as when the speaker of “A Daughter’s Loss” finds his lover’s tears turn his arms into “fragile weights / burning luminous hot tragic flames.” Or they prod us toward self-examination, as in “Caerleon,” where the site’s association with British history and legends, including King Arthur, as represented in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, provokes unflattering comparisons with the present day:
For if we breathe this wandering air
What Knight or Angel dare speak out for us today?
Like the “spoons of existence” poised on the way to humanity’s greedy mouths at the end of “Exodus,” the poems of Everyone is Waiting for Tomorrow are delicately balanced. Our isolation is balanced by being shared universally; our alienation from nature is balanced by its power inside and outside of us; the destruction of our conceptualizing projects is balanced by renewed and transformed sight; our sensual corruption is balanced by the journeys outside of ourselves that it provokes; our death is balanced by our hope for renewed life. Duggan’s poetry takes us on a dizzying whirl that reflects our current moment of confusion, and, too often, helplessness. But in reaching out to us, touching us with powerful images and moments of insight or empathy, Everyone is Waiting for Tomorrow does not simply plunge us into our isolated, solipsistic worlds; rather, it shares them back to us so that we may, however temporarily, achieve something like the detached view Duggan associates with being “in orbit” after death, and, perhaps, some of its wisdom.
About the Author Matt was born in Bristol U.K. 1971 and now lives in Newport, Wales with his partner Kelly and their cat ‘Pablo’. Matt regards himself as a working-class poet and activist with left leaning political views, his poems have appeared in many journals including Ambit, The Chiron Review, Into the Void, Poetry Salzburg Review, Amethyst Review, The Potomac Review, The Bolton Review, Dreich, Foxtrot Uniform, 14 Magazine, Dodging the Rain, Here Comes Everyone, Oxford Magazine, The Seventh Quarry, Osiris Poetry Journal, The Blue Nib, The Poetry Village, The Journal, The High Window, The Ghost City Review, L’ Ephemere Review, Marble and Polarity. In 2015 Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry with his first full length collection of poems Dystopia 38.10 (erbacce-press) and won the Into the Void Poetry Prize in 2017 with his poem Elegy for Magdalene, he has previously published four chapbooks: One Million Tiny Cuts (Clare Song Birds Publishing House) and A Season in Another World (Thirty West Publishing House) The Kingdom (Maytree Press) and Ten Truths from Wonderland ( Hedgehog Poetry Press) a bilingual collaboration with Spanish Poet Maria Castro Dominguez. His second full length collection Woodworm (Hedgehog Poetry Press) was published in July 2019, Matt has read his work across the U.K. including Greece, and the U.S.A and has appeared at various festivals such as Poetry on the Lake Festival in Orta, Italy, A Casa Dos Poetas in Portugal, the Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Matt's third full length poetry collection 'Everyone is Waiting for Tomorrow' will be available December 2021 https://erbacce-press.co.uk/matt-duggan Payments http://www.paypal.me/MattDuggan0
Reviewer bio: Lorna Wood is a violinist and writer in Auburn, Alabama. Her poetry is forthcoming in 2% Milk and has appeared in Before I Turn Into Gold (David L O’Nan, editor), Angel Rust (Best of the Net nominee) and Poetry South (Pushcart nominee), among others. Her fiction has appeared in Doubleback Review (Pushcart nominee) and on the Litro [USA] Lab and NoSleep Podcasts. Her creative nonfiction recently appeared in Feed, and her most recent scholarly essay is in The Palgrave Handbook of Affect Studies and Textual Criticism. Find out more at https://www.amazon.com/author/lornawood or from her blog, Word Music, here: https://lornawoodauthor.wordpress.com.