Tuesday 23 October 2012

Sumptuary Laws

In his most challenging, insightful and keen-minded review to date, Stewart Cole zeroes in on why Nyla Matuk's Sumptuary Laws is such an extraordinary debut.
Matuk’s work continually raises aesthetic questions, prompting us to examine where we stand in relation to the choices it embodies—and this, I would argue, is a telling sign of Sumptuary Laws’s essential excellence. With mediocre poetry, we either can’t see significant evidence of the poet’s grappling with the many spectral aesthetic possibilities she may or may not have actualized, or we don’t care because her choices aren’t made with great enough talent or high enough stakes. In Matuk’s work, however, talent and stakes are everywhere, leading us as readers to fully invest in the aesthetic risks she takes.
While Cole exposes some weaknesses in Matuk's method, I'd like to push back on one point. He seems unhappy with the Commentary the book ends on, believing that the annotations somehow give too much away. My suggestion for him, and anyone else struggling with that last section, is to lighten up. The section is meant as a joke, a send-up, a lark. A bit like the digressive notes in Pale Fire, it's a product of Matuk's "duplicate self," and thus was designed to appear (while being couched in witty and lush prose) as unhelpful, faux-pedantic and counterproductive as possible—playing up the notion of the poet as a wildly unreliable narrator of her own ideas.

No comments: