Lived Life, One Good Book

Nov 21, 2019 | Bubbler

The Geography of Home
Matthew Graham
Galileo Press (South Carolina) 2019

Reviewed by Roy Bentley

Excuse my needing to begin by saying, and bluntly, that some books are just sage-calm. Matthew Graham’s The Geography of Home is such a book. It maps Imagination’s trajectory in search of a particular sense of the everyday for the very good reason he reminds us of throughout: the present moment is all we have. (In the words of Looney Tunes cartoon-ending slogan: That’s All Folks!) Graham’s idea-weighty book starts off with Dick and Jane, the characters from the author’s reading past:

Oh how I hated their precious pets and perfect parents.
Their goody-two-shoed lives balanced on the footbridge
Of white bread and moral smugness.
But they taught me to read, taught me to live.
And then they vanished from the public eye in 1965
Aged ten and eight. They’d be in their late fifties, early sixties by now
And I hope it was a rocky ride of rehab and therapy… (page 3)

In “Dick and Jane,” it’s as if learning to read were learning to see. Which, of course, it is. The place from which we take first “readings” as far as what the world is and how to proceed. This writer wants us to book passage for a voyage wherein he plans to inventory the nature of time and the arc of a life toward Home. No small task. But in poem after poem, he dives in and we go with him.

All poems embody the world-as-home in some fashion, finding the cadences of any one of us taking time to consider. But Graham’s situational awareness is something spies might envy. About halfway through The Geography of Home, Graham informs the reader—in a part-poem about Ireland called “The Gaeltacht”—that “Americans are looking for a past.” (p.19) In this, Graham is of course reminding us of the premise of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: that, if nothing else, America is built on a shaky scaffolding of self-invention. However, Graham’s American also looks elsewhere for his story. That journeying includes England. In one of the strongest poems, “Quartet,”: ‘What might have been and what became / Remain the same. / The echo of a door never opened.” This meditation on lived life points to Matthew Graham’s lust for ideas that become signs and wonders while considering roads not taken, lives not lived. Hemingway’s partisan Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls hopes one good book as the hallmark of having made a contribution to the best in us. One good book. This is that.

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Roy Bentley, finalist for the Miller Williams prize for his book Walking with Eve in the Loved City, is the author of seven books of poetry; including American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press, who is bringing out a new & selected in fall of 2020. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Guernica, New Letters, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, and Rattle among others.