Journeys through time and space, and between dream, legend and reality wind through this fifth collection by well-known poet Matthew Francis. In the seventeenth century the scientist, Robert Boyle, creates a new night-time world lit with the watery light of phosphorus, while an English ambassador travels to the Czar’s court in Moscow through landscapes and communities no less wondrous than those encountered by the technologically-advanced counterpart of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson, making for the moon in a flying-machine drawn by twenty-five wild geese. Nearer home, Welsh traditional tales and beliefs come vividly to life as a hill-walker follows the dangerous vision of a woman, a home-coming man sees the dreaded corpse candle, harbinger of a death, and the cottager tries to rid himself of an invisible, uninvited guest. Even a prosaic telephone box or a public park take on a new, mysterious life.
Meanwhile, explorations in language and form offer other kinds of travel, sea tides flowing across the page, typographical signs leaving their accustomed places to try new settings, or vowels departing one by one in homage to Georges Perec. Treading delicately the fine line between mystery and whimsy, and in language at once spare and rich with association, the poet entices the reader to cross the boundaries of the prosaic and familiar into strange, alluring worlds.
'These tales of the unexpected are a treat, melding modernist tricks of the light with the phosphoric glow of "the long night called / the nineteenth century", full of suspense and charisma.'
'I greatly admired Matthew Francis's Muscovy. Inventive, unashamedly clever, beautifully exact. Flying fish: "Too smooth for the sea to hold, the fish squirt out". "Was", a great, dry-eyed elegy for childhood, is a brilliant series of end-stopped statements: "I was knocking my house down with a tennis ball"; "Curry was pacified in its circle of rice"; "At night the radio was seized by foreigners". Remember?'
Craig Raine, Books of the Year, The Times Literary Supplement