Happy Fathers’ Day! To mark the occasion, Live Canon Intern Madeline Clark chatted with Matt Bryden about his newly released pamphlet, The Glassblower’s House which weaves the theme of fatherhood – its joys, its challenges and the surprising discoveries it can bring - into wider encounters with family, nature and film noir.
What inspired your collection of poems?
Back in 2018, I read some jottings – I wouldn’t call them poems – about fatherhood at an open mic. One began,
I return to find you signal in bed
in your breast-feeding shirt
splashed with milk
(This never went anywhere – I meant signal as in a ‘signal’ moment, but people thought I intended someone signalling to me from the bed). Afterwards, Fiona Benson, whose writing about parenthood I really admire, and who was reading that evening, told me to keep going as fatherhood was under-reported in poetry. When my daughter was 8 months or so, I was delighted to discover I had documented most of those early months in my journals and on scraps of paper.
in my own life consequently led the narrative in another direction and I was
determined to create order out of the chaos. So, there is a narrative arc from
pregnancy to birth to the pressures that puts on a relationship to separation
and a new start. The challenge was to keep the details specific but not
limitingly personal. The title The Glassblower’s House refers to people
in glass houses, certainly – but also to a transformative ritual which can
create something enduring and possibly useful out of the flames.
How long have you been writing?
Since 2010, but this is my first published pamphlet in 10 years.
What can you say about your writing process?
It is slow! I just can’t rush. Some poems arrive almost fully formed but then the editing and fine-tuning might take years. I am myopic, in that I can see the poems at a rhythmic and word-for-word level but find it hard to achieve a distanced overview and see them as a reader might. This can lead to accusations of impenetrability. But sometimes, when I get that ability to read with an objective eye, I can finish five poems that have frustrated me for years in an evening. Then it disappears again.
The poem ‘Portugal’ in the pamphlet is one that I completely forgot about and found in an old journal. Reading that gave me an impression of what it must be like to read my poems. Another time, on the morning drive to school my daughter (6) started reading something and I realised it was a poem I had written years ago. She’d been drawing on scrap paper and turned it over and began reading aloud. As I drove, I got to hear that poem afresh.
What was the most challenging aspect of your writing?
the balance between the personal / private and the universal. There is one
moment in one poem which mentions ‘expressing’ where I wonder if I revealed too
much. But then, not to mention it was to be opaque.
What do you hope your reader gains or takes away from your writing?
The preciousness of the moment. An attentiveness to the moment. Until I was 40 or so, I felt that I had been lucky enough to avoid any real grief in my life. When my marriage broke up with my daughter just two, things felt terrible. I felt like I had lost everything, even the hills I used to walk in. Now I appreciate quite how much I have learned from the experience. A while back, I was flicking through photos on my phone searching for my car numberplate or something and I realised that virtually everyone I was with – and my daughter was with – I had not even known before the separation.
Above all, I wanted to conduct myself well in these poems. Where was the point in a book full of anger or bitterness? I think it is a book of grief, but one with hope and appreciation of a thousand moments along the way.
Matt Bryden lives in Devon. He has published a pamphlet Night Porter (Templar), his first collection Boxing the Compass (Templar) and a book of translation The Desire to Sing after Sunset (ShowWe). You can purchase a copy of his latest pamphlet here: https://www.livecanon.co.uk/store/product/the-glassblowers-house-matt-bryden