Cazique by Matthew Clegg

Publisher and release date: Longbarrow Press (2018). Featured photo by Paul Evans.

Cazique is the third, full-length collection from poet Matthew Clegg. Divided into three movements, it explores the consequences created by the repetition of day-to-day life, the difficulties facing communication in a failing relationship and the manners in which a trickster deceives.

Cazique opens with the sequence Officer / Zipped File. Each poem in this segment is effective in drawing the reader in as Clegg’s delivery of entertaining, contemporary poetry keeps readers invested, and there is a desire to see what familiar moments and feelings he has captured and reproduced. He reassures us again and again that he remembers and is sensitive to the everyday experiences most of us have become numb to. Officer / Zipped File is a reminder of how much of an effect these mundane, seemingly irrelevant, moments have on us. Between Train and Tram Stop, for example, details the dryness of modern existence that inspires us to daydream but which is then interrupted by reality, only for that interruption to be countered by further truth. The poem shows us that we are unable to control things beyond ourselves, a theme that extends into the other sections of the collection, Holodets and Cazique, along with the subjects of communication and deception. In Holodets, the poems follow a breaking relationship between a poet and his Russian lover. This is expressed well in Gifts, where the final line is almost unintentional humour, and again in Your Russias, one of the book’s finest pieces. Your Russias focuses on nostalgia and presents it as something that is clouded and which we use as a tool to deceive ourselves. The titular section of the collection extends this thematic field and is told from the point of view of a trickster who is also vengeful. The latter attribute comes to light excellently in Iago and Edmund the Bastard, while Logos: Speeches for Two Occasions, similar to Your Russias, is true to life and justifies the villainous actions of the character by showing us how we con ourselves. Many of the poems in this segment deceive the reader, as we are made to be unsure as to if the character is deceitful and selfish until we reach ‘Myself Am Hell’, one of the book’s most honest poems. Here, we are shown that the character is terrible and that he is aware of this but nonetheless refuses to change, while Cazique’s titular poem is a chilling revelation of the character’s ambition.

In the notes section at the end of the book, Clegg gives the reader an explanation for each movement. If you were to read Cazique without knowing these objectives, it’s possible that you would fail to identify the intentions behind each segment in the way Clegg may have intended, particularly in Holodets and Cazique. This doesn’t mean that the book misses its mark, but the strongest pieces in the second and third sequences are often the clearest manifestations of the poet’s aims, such as with A Toast and ‘The Secret Sharer’. Despite how good the second and third sequences are, they may have been even stronger had more of the poems been clearer reflections of the poet’s inspiration behind them.

Many of the poems in Cazique are sharp and gripping. This is due to Clegg’s ability to bring what we often miss to the surface with an efficient style of writing. Clegg is a writer who gives the impression that he has started a piece with a serious pen but by the end of it has remembered how fickle, ironic and ridiculous life is. This makes it easy for his readers to see themselves in his writing.

Cazique is an enjoyable read with many sincere moments that allow readers to recapture instances and thoughts they have tackled in work, in relationships and with themselves. It is a collection that is worth coming back to in order to remind oneself of how we cope with the truths, the questions and the doubts we have.

  • Buy the book: Longbarrow Press
  • Favourite quote: “Are the games we play really so different? / What would you do in the name of survival? / Dress above budget to make an impression? / Amp up the grades of those exams you bungled?”

Matthew Clegg | Website | Twitter

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