There are some people who have a distinctive voice. You wouldn’t need to turn around at a party to check, if you were in a room with Ian Paisley! Or Alan Bennett. This is also true of poetry – there are some poets of whose work you only need to read a few lines to know who’s speaking. When we say "voice” in terms of poetry, of course, we are not necessarily talking about a literal voice –though you only need hear a few seconds of that famous scratchy recording of Yeats reciting The Lake Isle of Innisfree,or Eliot reading The Journey of the Magi, for instance, to know who it is.
Almost always though, the voice we hear in our head when reading poetry is ourown internal version of what we assume the poet must sound like. Many are lucky to have seen one of Matt Nicholson’sperformances and readings and therefore know what he sounds like in real life,but even if you had no idea of who he was, after reading two or three of hispoems, the distinctive voice comes through loud and clear.
There is no mistaking a Matt Nicholson poem. As Goldsmith once said of Dr Johnson, "There is no arguing with him, for when his pistol misfires, he will knock you down with the butt!” Although this is not to say that it’s all uncompromising tough-guy stuff. It was once said of another Hull poet,Andrew Marvell, that he had a tough reasonableness under a lyric grace, and that is something which equally applies to Matt Nicholson. Tough, yet reasonable. Dogmatic, yet understanding. You will also find moments of questioning, even of elegiac compassion, but it is always on his terms. His poetry speaks with an instantly recognizable tone, which echoes and resonates throughout his work.
His personalhistory lends another facet to the concept of the voice. There are some poetswho are undeniably "from” somewhere, and Hull has exerted its quirky,no-nonsense, streetwise influence on poetic talents both home-grown andimported, ranging from Douglas Dunn to Larkin.Matt Nicholson was born in the shadow of the city of Hull. He remainedin Yorkshire for the best part of his first nine years before moving south withhis family. While there, he completed his education, worked for a living, fellin love and got married, and then, in 2013, he brought his wife and all theirworldly possessions back to the East Riding.
And, if youask him on a good day, he will tell you that he is both pleased and proud to behome, and that he had only been – in thegood old Yorkshire phrase - "there and back to see how far it is”.Coincidentally, There and back to see howfar it is was the title of this first collection of his poems, whichappeared in late 2016, in the HumberSound series. That collection firmlyestablished him - as both a performer, and a poet with something to say. In this latest volume, We Are Not All Blessed With A Hat-Shaped Head, he has produced acycle of work that will be warmly received by all existing aficionados of hiswork, those who have seen him perform at gigs, readings and festivals, andeagerly devoured by those who have come to his poems anew. Uncompromising, yes; tough, but oddly tender.Poems that will repay re-reading and which will stay with you, reverberatinground your head in that unique Matt Nicholson voice.