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Miraculous Hours

by Matt Rader

B.C. writer Matt Rader’s debut poetry collection is steeped in violence and death. In the space of the first six poems, a bird hits a window, a truck hits a lamppost, a woman hits a dog, a kitten’s neck gets broken, and an ant is dismembered and crushed. All of this might be a bit much, but for the most part Rader manages with cold-eyed skill to keep his verse narratives from bottoming out into melodrama. Subject matter is often downplayed in talk about poetry, but Rader’s instinct for the intrinsic dramatic tension of a situation serves him well.

In his fixation with violence and wilderness, and in his Anglo-Saxon-inflected cadences, Rader’s work is reminiscent of Ted Hughes. In poems that take titles from Hughes (“Pike” and “Crow”), the debt might be more imitation than influence, but this is not unusual in a talented young poet – witness Larkin’s early resemblance to Yeats. One gets the sense here of an apprentice craftsman trying out different alloys – a refreshing thing when so many generic, overpolished first books by poets who seem to have “found their voice” too easily flood the agora every year. It will be interesting to see how Rader’s technique evolves in work to come.

In several of these poems, Rader’s otherwise sharp radar seems to fail him a line or two at a time, as strong rhythms blip into prose. Some of the poems seem to be a couple of drafts shy of completion, and the book might have been much riper on the whole with another year on the vine. “Exodus,” for example, is a poem that Rader has improved greatly since it was published in the anthology Breathing Fire 2, giving it more imagistic zip and better line and stanza breaks, but it’s still a bit too baggy.

But the best poems in this book have so much urgent craft to recommend them that flawed efforts are easily overlooked. This collection is not quite miraculous, but it does herald the arrival of a genuine poet we would all do well to watch out for.