Collected Poems gives us the full range of Harry Mathews’s marvelous poetic genius over 70 years. The artistic intelligence that created this work is staggering. It’s as if Mathews constructed each poem to be a music box with a spinning figure on top, not of a ballerina but of your mind, and before you know it you are transported to a place where, as one poem says, “classical euphoria glitters into us.”
Like an actual visit from Harry, these poems sometimes squeeze your hand, other times bemusedly pat you on the knee, and often poke at your assumptions. Like a great dancer or a talented acrobat, they conjure up an invisible arc from his brain to yours—and that arc glows like a rainbow. Be forewarned: If you attempt to leave the room, Harry will do whatever it takes to lure you back.
You get the wild feeling that the person writing these words has absorbed every possible musical register, from the plain-spoken to the highly mannered to the sonorous and symphonic to the cacophonous. Mathews is a rara avis whose works are marvelous and inimitable. This gathering will stun, stump, enchant, dazzle, and puzzle his most ardent fans, and delight anyone who opens themselves to its unforgettable music.
For me, Harry Mathews was more than a writer whose work I admire. He was a relentless and playful explorer of form. And, as such, he was my mentor in the deepest sense. That is, I always imagined what Harry might think of what I’d written. Not because I wrote to please him but because he was the bearer and exponent of standards I have completely accepted as my own. His poetry, like all of his work, is strange and — at times — almost mysteriously propelled, while conveying a breadth of culture and learning and a pleasure in language. I miss the man a great deal, and I am grateful for his work and his example.