Lila Matsumoto’s spangled realms always assume the form of acquaintances, catching slightly on the mesh of familiarity: a vague recognition pulses through an assortment of details that are novel. All the while, there is a blending of the poetics of silliness with gasping platitudes and tufted premonitions: ‘do you live the things or observe them?’
When I first glance over at Two Twin Pipes Sprout Water (Prototype, 2021), a shaft of sunlight meets the cover. Matsumoto’s poetry spills across objects in the way that pooling light makes things shine differently. I think of Matsumoto’s style as sun scattering from the soft, foil belly of a distended crisp packet: this is the practice and the process of allowing things to become something else for a short while. The luxurious pleasure of light as it transforms an object, alters your affective position to that object.
I circle ‘a cloud of pleasing rain’ and pencil a tiny heart next to ‘evening’s a tree / slicing warm / blurring into visible care / until defining folds are gone’. No-one told me loss was so liquid. Fluids abound: milk, flesh juice, wine, rushing streams, pleasing rain. How to contain? Or maybe the secret is to let them filter through the system, warming the corners of this roomy text.
This structural roominess, a symptom of the unbound (and, paradoxically, hyperbound) potential of the fragment, first seduced me when I read Matsumoto’s Urn and Drum (Shearsman, 2018) in 2019. The fragment speaks of being part of a larger composition (a mythic one, usually), so that the undulating textures mystify without the need to justify. That mystification is a delight, always curious, the fragment creating a densely pixelated lifeworld of its own.
In one section, organised under ‘Fiefdom of x’, landscapes materialise with a straightforwardness. There is an obvious elucidatory tone at work, each word veering towards the next. One page denotes a bizarre cluster of ‘copulating Clydesdale horses … rendered in magisterial strokes of engine black’. On the next page: ‘a magnificent tapestry which has been spared no detail’. The reader has no direct access to what is being described and so must wander through the self-reflexive sparkle of Matsumoto’s framing strategies. The descriptions themselves congregate as a gallery of magnificent tapestries, sparing no detail: a writing spectacle that puts into motion imaginative, embodied thinking.
I feel blindfolded, but conversely my senses gain acuity: ‘clarions’ and ‘fir twigs’ jump into the burgundy non-space between retina and eyelid.
Nestling close to the words, Esme Armour’s illustrations add a thrum of complexity. Madonna and Child gaze ahead peacefully with tired eyes. A gentle echo of the myth of Romulus and Remus locates itself within a curling wolf flank. A semi-bench resists stability, chiaroscuro making it appear wonky (I think back to a line: ‘a litany of things inessential’). A kind of Sylvanian Family appears choir-like against a mountainous savannah which might also be a stage backdrop. A dark triad of slugs are determinedly woven between rough loops of shrubbery. All contribute to fleeting apparitions of an ecology suspended between the real and the unreal.
Two Twin Pipes Sprout Water accords sentience to matter that would otherwise seem still, frozen or greyed out. In one instance, an emerging liveness threads itself into tiny details that poke through the ‘dizzying folds’ of a ‘huge self-portrait’. Onlookers are ‘amazed at what they [see]’: ‘the world is all here’. The space between the self-portrait and its audience indirectly mirrors Matsumoto’s generous, wild compositions, poems that understand the quiet, polychromatic force of being seen.
In one fragment, a car is ‘found being scratched up by a peacock which had seen its own reflection in the bonnet’. But isn’t this just an utterance of the book’s love of language? Endless reflection, becoming dazzled by the tones and cadences of the everyday, scratching being equivalent to making a mark that completes itself, sketching a contact zone. The peacock is simply saying: I am here, I see myself in every surface. Such power is attached to acknowledging your place, your poiesis, as a radiant filament in a gaudy world.
Alice Hill-Woods is a writer and editor based in Glasgow. Her poetry pamphlet, HOTHOUSE was published by Salò Press in 2021. Her practice is cross-disciplinary and she is the poetry and nonfiction editor at SPAM Press.