The Two-Way Poetry Podcast: Matt Clegg

Posted on 8th January 2024 in News

In this episode, I talk to the poet Matt Clegg about how ‘Back Home Again Chant’ by T’ao Ch’ien (translated by David Hinton) influenced the writing of his own poem ‘’Tzu-Jan as Perfomance Outcome.’

Matt talks about how Chinese poetry has come to increasingly influence his approach to writing over the past ten years.  He talks about T’ao Ch’ien’s style – how it conceals depths beneath its apparently simple surface.  He talks about different notions of the idea of the body (and body politic), about the choices T’ao Ch’ien made in this regard – turning away from power and influence to live a more ‘stripped-down’ life – and how these decisions can speak to our own materialistic, consumer culture. Matt goes on to discuss tone in T’ao Ch’ien’s piece – and about coming to this work as a piece of translation.

Matt then goes on to talk about his own poem in the light of saying what Tzu-Jan means in relation to Taoism.  Matt talks about ‘walking out’ of the city – about different ideas around ‘productivity’, about drifting, moving between the inner world and outer world. He reflects on walking as an ‘anonymous’ person – and what this state of being allows him access to as an alert observer. He finishes by discussing his latest collaborative writing project.

Matt read and discussed ‘Back Home Again Chant’ by T’ao Ch’ien from The Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien Translated by David Hinton (Copper Canyon Press, 2000).

Matt Clegg teaches creative writing at the University of Derby. His books include Cazique, The Navigators, & West North East, all published by Longbarrow Press. His current project is Have You always Been Here, a haibun sequence inspired by Kobayashi Issa’s The Spring of My Life. Have You Always Been Here will combine haiku & prose poetry by Matt, and illustrations by P.R. Ruby. It explores the impact of Covid lockdowns on the contemplative life; on what we observe & how it affects us; how we care; & how we try [or fail] to take responsibility.

Tzu-Jan as Performance Outcome

Into every account mail is pinging: ‘we will secure
our long-term future by competing on more fronts.’
Let’s find a glade where a thought might grow.
On Penistone Road, fans have assembled a totem pole shrine
out of teddy-bears, Wednesday shirts, and ever-wilting
bouquets. They are taped to a long redundant road sign,
as if to re-construct a universal grammar. Dear
Performance Review, this is what I’d really aspire to.
From Beeley Wood Road, someone has flung a single
ballet shoe over the river. It curls, like a comma
for the mind. A captain of industry exhales
his strawberry vape and dreams of shedding half his
body fat in a fixable world without depression.
His factory remains a nut-free zone. Permit me
to fast-forward half a mile, as I climb the hard yards
towards Birley Edge. One acre of slope is bitumen black
and seeded with beer cans. An emerald fly dances Morse
on the hot-pan of a broken slate, but heather
knits in from all sides, its purples blossoming bees.
Elsewhere, narcissists and lamplighters are blagging
their way into the goonlight, but here, just under
the Birley Stone, someone has evoked their late mother
in flowers of violet and mildest blue. I’d love to stop,
but have business in the leafways of Wharncliffe Woods.
I find a tree, violently uprooted in some long blown-out
gale. The crater where it once clutched earth is a pool
fermenting mud-water wine. Reflected light minnows
back and forth, close-reading each crevice in the exposed
roots. Elsewhere, there are directives to create
future-facing partnerships, but I want only to collaborate
with pipits that flirt in and out of bracken tips, all day.
Here I sit reading Ta’ Chien to the trees, knowing little more
of strategy than this. Fresh crops of data are being harvested,
and bright careerists kneel to the metrics, but here,
aphids have printed their green bodies between the lines
of ‘Back Home Again Chant’. A golden Labrador lags far
behind its master, and snuffle-blesses my open book.