Against the Hard Angle
(ECW Press: Toronto, 2010)
ISBN – 10: 155022915X / ISBN – 13: 9781550229158
The two sections that comprise matt robinson’s fourth full-length volume of poetry, Against the Hard Angle, though disparate in terms of form – the first consisting primarily of a long poem; the other a collection of shorter lyrical pieces – nonetheless share a common concern with ideas of relationship and its examination. These are poems, at their cores, about where we stand in relation to the rest of our various worlds.
In the collection’s opening section, the eponymous (and 2009 Malahat Review Long Poem Award-winning) “against the hard angle” steadily develops a grudging momentum, all the while searching for a way to articulate loss, in the end becoming a kind of meditative catalogue of relationship breakdown and divorce. It is, as noted by the Malahat Prize judges, “a lean sweep of blues variations.” “Knotty and slow, with a latent violence that is continuously courted and undermined,” this poem is a kind of “phenomenological trance,” one in which “the reader lunges along with matt robinson’s taut exploratory rhythms, his tantalizing speed, with his painstaking attention to line and phrasing.” Indeed, “in language that is dynamic, palpable, and almost dangerous, ‘angle’ recalibrates our being in the world, ‘and topples / stacks of // whatever might not be nailed tightly down.’ ” The second section takes as its immediate subject matter a different sort of relationship altogether. Having returned home after nearly a decade elsewhere, these are poems that reference robinson’s native Halifax, NS, more specifically and vividly than in his previous work; these are lines with “the near / magical pull of some deep-seeded magnet now spinning, / we’d guess, completely / and fully out of control – a crazed, elemental / ballet.”
Part extended love song to and for a city and part mediation on what a city can both say to and about us, toeing the slack-roped narrows uses some of Halifax’s most and least famous places and spaces as jumping off points for a stop-and-start lyrical reality tour of eastern Canada’s largest urban centre, a sometimes fraught journey that leaves us “all tendon-tensed, / against impact, near white-knuckled to / breakage.”