Spotlight series #71 : Matthew Firth

rob mclennan
3 min readMar 7, 2022

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.

STATEMENT

I took at least a 30-or-35-year break from writing poetry. Back when I was 21 or so, I wrote poems, handing them to pretty girls at bus stops and in libraries. Then I stopped that and switched to writing short fiction, sending stories out all over the place (instead of handing them to pretty girls). I guess I’m not supposed to formulate things this way in 2022. Seventeen people hate me already.

From 1997–2013, I had four books of short fiction published, plus a fifth, a compilation translated into French.

Later, people died, and I stopped writing short fiction.

Some time in 2020 I started to write poetry, not due to the pandemic. That is coincidental, not consequential. I wrote out phrases, notions, random ideas. I saw images past and present, fragments of stories, anecdotes, emotions. I began to open these things up, to drop the leash and let the dog run. I also read some poetry to measure my words beside others’. Then I realized that’s not helpful. There are a lot of ties that go well with that blue shirt.

I write poetry because I like the economy of the form. I write to blend narrative elements with juxtaposed imagery with mellifluous phrases with sex and swear words. I have no interest in the art of it, nor the academe. I resist elitism and erudition, even though I do like big words when the time is right. I often think this when writing a poem: This seems as good a place as any to stop.

THREE POEMS

HOW?

How did none of us end up in factories
on shop floors
on road construction crews
or down on our knees banging in carpet?

My granddad lopped off a finger and a half.
An uncle had both legs amputated.
Another died of mesothelioma. My old
man’s lungs crystalized and seized
like an old, rusted engine.

Here I sit tap tapping on this soft
machine, playing with words, my
fingers like dandelions
I once rubbed under my chin.

No one I know drinks rye and Coke.

Sure, we go to football games
and drink twelve-dollar beers.
But the stadium — like so many other things — has
been spun on its axis and
I can’t tell any more
whether any of this
is real.

HANDYMAN NICK

He stands in my basement holding
my son’s hockey stick, leaning on it, testing
the flex, like he knows what he’s
doing.
He’s a right shot.
My son is a left but
this does not deter him.
“I had a tryout,” he says.
“With the 67s.”
I look at him and let him talk.
“I was small but those fuckers
couldn’t catch me, at least not on the
first day.”
I sip my coffee and listen.
“Too quick until fucking
Potvin catches me with an elbow in
a scrimmage. That was it. Game over. Finito!
He flicks his wrists, scraping the stick’s
wrong-handed blade along the cement,
shooting an imaginary
puck.
“That right?” I say. “That really sucks.”
He feigns some kind of dipsy-doodle,
then leans the stick
back against the wall. Straightens
his ballcap.
Sighs.
I wish he’d get back to work,
finish the tiling, and then
get the hell
out of my house
instead of regaling
me with his old-timer shit.
But I give him his moment.
He sighs again and droops
his shoulders.
I sip my coffee
and wait for it to happen.

SEWING INSTRUCTIONS

How does that bird
light as a thimble
flit, chirp, and fly
at minus twenty degrees
while we’re stuck down here
jabbing ourselves
like pincushions,
frozen in fear?
Such beautiful singers.
There is something to learn here.

Matthew Firth was born and raised in Hamilton and has lived in Ottawa since 2000. He is the author of four collections of short fiction, including Suburban Pornography and Shag Carpet Action (both from Anvil Press), plus a compilation of his work in French titled Made In Canada (13E Note Editions). He also writes the column Crank n File for sub-Terrain magazine and now, apparently, writes poetry. He works by day for a national trade union and is one of those crazy guys who plays pickup hockey at 7am while you’re still sleeping.

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