Wakefield’s poet son may have a self-confessed tendency for lewd social observation but Matt Abbott is also an unpretentious recorder of life in the raw, with a talent for coming up with a memorable turn of phrase, an innate understanding of the full comedic potential in a forced rhyme, yet a commitment to being serious. He’s not one for an ungrammatical, self-regarding pause; like his miner ancestors, Abbott gets on with the job.
His poems are free from writerly affectation, grounded in the ordinariness of street names and dates, in people’s language, and the personal details that can reveal so much.
Two Little Ducks—Bingo slang for the number 22—is a spoken word show with three main strands: an examination of why so many white working class people voted for Brexit; Abbott’s personal experiences of volunteering at “the Jungle” migrant camp near Calais; and the story of 22-year-old Maria, stuck in an unnamed English “tumbleweed town” with a self-centred man-child boyfriend and a going-nowhere job in a launderette. Abbott slips between these with little or no fanfare; he’s a poet who lets the work speak for itself, rather than buried under excessive introductory notes.
Abbott is also brave enough to politely suggest early on that we don’t automatically clap after each poem, presumably to let his more serious words and their meaning settle in our minds. Unless the poem ends in a rhyme, that is: in which case all bets are off, and it’s almost certainly one of the funny ones that’s OK to applaud. Especially given that the realities of an overnight Megabus (from London to Leeds for just £3), or the echoes of a fight outside the chip shop across the street, are best appreciated from the viewpoint of not being there.
Thanks to school, I’ve long been a firm believer that poetry isn’t written, it’s committed—and should be punished accordingly. Yet Abbott is precisely the kind of poet who, much to my own surprise, always changes my mind. Whether talking about “clothing spread like shrapnel”, or the Calais Jungle camp as an “eyesore of humanity”, his poems are free from writerly affectation, grounded in the ordinariness of street names and dates, in people’s language, and the personal details that can reveal so much. For example: Nan buys young Marie a fancy notebook, “but pocket-money paid for the pen”. Perfect.
Perhaps it’s because Abbott IS genuinely committed, to his craft and to doing something to help his fellow humanity, but without ever losing his message in the anger. Or maybe it’s because he’s making some serious points, very well: that when we feel oppressed, we can easily forget our own privileges; and if we feel ignored—worse, dismissed and despised—then a whole class of people might just do the unthinkable. Vote Leave, for example.