Song of the Systole has energy, force, momentum, and beauty. It is a stunning debut collection from a truly gifted new poet. I like the way these poems move, always musical and always on point, as he writes: “I know the feeling of the world spinning.” It’s a wonderful book interested in the body that speaks and the body politic.
Focused deeply on a language to navigate the outward space of the body, the heart of these poems beats between want and its relief, no matter how briefly it’s obtained. Gagnon’s poems forage, find their bearings, then sing out of the body’s reorientation in a territory it is continuously desiring to understand, they gallop “as a flame / does, against / the turbulence / of convictions.”
These poems are fluent in the language of pool, sky, bath, afternoon, body, earth—the way things pass into and out of the mind, the way a bird’s song can become: “the slow ancient call of the bird/ in the distant flicker.” Gagnon has much to say about how and where we find one another, how and what we see in the field of the world’s luminous circumstance. For the sheer dexterity of phrase, the pleasure of perceiving, and the music of quiet crescendo, this is a book to be savored and read and savored again.
In ravishing language that blends ecstasis with visionary wonder, Matt Gagnon’s poems plumb the phenomenological terrain of our creaturely experience. “This terra parches wonderment / and leaves us still and ghosted,” Gagnon writes, and the work gathered here speaks to the serious introit of desire and ghostliness that limn our anthropomorphic selves. Forwarding Louis Zukofsky’s “upper limit music” and the prescient romanticism of Robert Duncan’s lyric address, Gagnon masterfully weaves together the scales and signs of our worldly attention, providing necessary evidence of the body’s “molecular advance twilit, sheened, abraded.” Querulous, ruminative, distilling narratives from the molecular tide of diurnal experience, Gagnon’s haunting Song of the Systole asks “Is it possible to love more than one world, to see clear across to the other side?” This beautiful book, “hounded by rituals of loss,” inscribes its pain-worn and joyous journey in an effort to make that crossing visible and audible to each of us.
Matthew Gagnon teaches writing at Westfield State University and the University of Connecticut, Hartford. He is a graduate of the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including 1913: A Journal Of Forms, American Letters & Commentary, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Fourteen Hills, Hambone, LVNG, The Nation, WebConjunctions, and in the anthology, Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems To the Resistance (Dispatches Editions/Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2017). He lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts, with his wife and daughter. Song of the Systole is his first full-length book.