The Organ Box, Matt Howard
Eyewear Publishing, 2015 £5.00

Tightly- laced poetry

The title of Matt Howard’s pamphlet is intriguing. The Organ Box. What will we find inside –something musical or visceral, or both?

Both is the answer. The title doesn’t spring out on the second or third page as a poem in its own right but is tucked away inside the tightly-laced bodice of a poem, ‘Acquired deformities: Constriction of female thorax’, presented by – as the epigraph tells us – Sir Erasmus Wilson in 1884.

If I had turned the page, away from that forbidding title I might never have found the organ box in the woman’s rib-cage (‘concertina of bones’) nor discovered that this is, in fact, a sonnet, a tender love poem.

I love the way desire is signalled in the first lines – ‘Preserved the way you were wanted, / wasp-waisted, deformed from years of corsetry’. I linger over those sounds – ‘ribs drawn oblique / like tight lace.’ Matt Howard holds the assonance and alliteration in place, gradually eases them into metaphor. I appreciate the openness of a speaker who says, ‘all I have are metaphors for you’ – no pretence, he can’t offer love gifts.

At first, the ribs become another ‘corset’, made of ‘wicker’— first ‘an empty fruit basket’, then ‘a beekeeper’s straw skep’. I pause and savour those resonant sounds again: ‘basket / . . . straw skep.’ Especially ‘skep’. I looked it up – having an idea what it meant but wanted to be as precise in my understanding as this poet is in language.

The ‘wicker’ images are benign enough at first, yet more so in what follows: ‘colonised / then smoked out by men’s words for sweetness – / caught in the vice of their love’. Matt Howard ‘fleshes out’ a woman’s life (lives, in fact) from bare bones.

Finally, the poet speaks as lover – what else could such tenderness mean? ‘That I could hold you now, ease this organ box . . .’ I have deliberately withheld the final line because I don’t want to spoil your pleasure.

Pam Thompson