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Matt Howard

5th July 2023

Our last evening of the year was graced with the extremely talented poet and conservationist Matt Howard. Reading and explaining a selection of poems from his debut anthology Gall, its luminosity and mesmeric imagery swept through the room like waves, the audience enraptured by Howard’s soothing voice which enriched and instilled his language with depth and sonorous meaning.

Delving into the backstory behind each poem, animated them in an entirely new light. Whilst the subject of death appears to be at the forefront, transformation is key to the heart of this collection. But too, this collection is about observation and about seeing the great complexity of nature. Galls, which give their name to the collection, are the result of parasitic wasps and can be made into ink. Here Howard perceives nature through the eyes of owls and his imagination runs free with the myth of the ‘Green Children’. Each poem is unique, and we had his guiding hand dissecting each to reveal how intricately each poem is furled, like the ‘earth-swimming fists’ of moles in a glass jar.

But where do these complex visions and figurative illustrations stem from for him? He is a ‘Norfolk boy’. He channelled our attention to his background in conservation, spending many hours with the RSPB. But he revealed readily that there is no science behind it. He doesn’t force himself to write. He doesn’t spend hours scouring the landscape. Rather, a direct event has to occur, and then it incubates. It ‘kindles within himself’ building up to a precipice of stirring inspiration. He always writes with pencil and, as much as he can, on old scraps of paper. And thus, the idea is born.

Naturally, we love to ask for guidance. His advice is to immerse yourself completely and utterly in what you’re passionate about. ‘Read and read and read’ he suggests, with absolute sincerity, even to the point of copying out your favourite writer’s work to understand the author’s mindset and style. But too, you must share your own work. Be open to criticism. Be bold and be open, to be better.

His deep reverence for nature was clear and we had a lasting impression of a man making a difference, bringing poetry to many by being a fellow of the University of Leeds, through to ensuring that nature is protected and cherished for future generations. He wants young people also to find the same fascination, creativity and awe he’s imbued with. It made for a night of discovery. His poems seep with deep reverence for nature, and we met a man whose passion knows no bounds.

James Phillips


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