A man takes off for the moon in an engine drawn by geese, a poltergeist moves into a remote Welsh village, and a party of seventeenth-century Englishmen encounter the wonders of Russia – sledges, vodka, skating and Easter eggs. The scientist Robert Boyle basks in the newly discovered radiance of phosphorus, and the theme of light in darkness is taken up by the more personal poems in the book: phoneboxes, streetlamps, moonlight. The joys of the world and of the imagination find their equivalent in the joyful possibilities of language:
A basket of snow for the Empress
with a poem of modest triumph:
I made this out of what does not last.
My poetry collection Muscovy was published by
Faber and Faber in May 2013.
(Click on the link, where available, to read the whole review.)
"Just as the different parts of a stained glass window give colour to the sunlight blazing through it, so it is through a breadth of form, landscapes, languages, and experiences that these poetic parts reconstruct to challenge our perception of the whole... I was excited to turn the page." Russell Jones, Elsewhere)
"These tales of the unexpected are a treat, melding modernist tricks of the light with the phosphoric glow of 'the long night called / the nineteenth century', full of suspense and charisma."
Aingeal Clare, The Guardian)
"Near the end the poet, mock-humble, declares this 'a poem of modest triumph: /I made this out of what does not last'. It does; it will. Ephemeral as light the images have cast substantial shadows."
(Hayden Murphy, The Herald)
"There is a lyrical richness but also a shining clarity to Muscovy that renders even its most fantastical or marvellous excursions, simultaneously knowable and tangible... Muscovy delights in the forgetting and re-remembering or re-imagining of the world – in daring the reader to look at the world afresh, like the speaker of ‘The Man in the Moon’, and wonder ‘How had I lived there?’" (Laura Wainwright, New Welsh Review)
"I loved Muscovy for its variety, and for a playfulness of spirit that has its own gravity... Revelling in the exotic and the fantastical, Francis leads us easily from world to world and time to time. In 'Things That Make the Heart Beat Faster', based on The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, he gives us an eleventh century Japanese court. Brilliantly, he makes us experience this world both as if from inside and with a sense of its dislocating strangeness. " Edmund Prestwich, The North)
"These are substantial, ambitious poems fuelled by depth and dazzling syntactic energy. Francis shifts registers effortlessly, throws voices and generally whips the proverbial cast of thousands through his hoops with a ringmaster's aplomb... Muscovy is a lovely book, and, it needs saying, head and shoulders above most collections published anywhere this year." (Conor O'Callaghan, Poetry Review)
"It is notable, like all his work, for two characteristics that are not found together all that often, but that work together very well: accurate observation and creative speculation. He is very good, in other words, at both pinpointing in words exactly what he sees and imagining what he has never seen... This poet's curiosity, keen eye and verbal exuberance should entertain and absorb most readers."
"Ghosts and lonely spirits haunt these pages but wordplay – for example replacing each letter of the alphabet with a keyboard symbol in 'Enigma Variations' – creates a sense of fun that increases the pleasure. " (Mark Sanderson,
"He is a poet of conspicuous and inventive formal accomplishment. But... the artifice is worked on by a strong, sensuous imagination. Muscovy is not only an impressive collection but one which offers rich pleasures." (William Wootten, TLS)
"I greatly admired Matthew Francis's Muscovy. Inventive, unashamedly clever, beautifully exact. Flying fish: 'Too smooth for the sea to hold, the fish squirt out'. 'Was', a great, dry-eyed elegy for childhood, is a brilliant series of end-stopped statements: 'I was knocking my house down with a tennis ball'; 'Curry was pacified in its circle of rice'; 'At night the radio was seized by foreigners'. Remember?" (Craig Raine, 'Books of the Year', TLS,)
"Muscovy is predominantly an exhibition of a writer flexing his descriptive muscles across a strong, supple line, one that should fire him into the front rank of contemporary poets."