Susan Glickman's introduction at the launch of Sumptuary Laws in Toronto, October 24th 2012:
I just met Nyla Matuk last spring at a poetry reading here in Toronto when she introduced herself as a fellow Véhicule author, so it’s a bit odd to be introducing her to you today as though I have a profound and longstanding insight into her life or work. But in another way it’s delightfully appropriate, because when you read a Nyla Matuk poem, it’s best to approach it as a stranger, without preconceptions. Something as banal as a Sunday afternoon game of croquet at Trinity Bellwoods Park or a drive along Weston Road can evoke a meditation on the British Empire in splendour and decay, an octopus “neglected for some month,/leaps out of the living room tank/ and flails on the furniture, settling on the floor like a thing/ that claims not to be a pipe,” and the euphonious trio of “Mortadello, Pirandello, Martello Tower” is revealed as a crossword puzzle clue for Stephen Daedalus’s picnic.Before Sumptuary Laws was published, Nyla asked me what I thought of the proposed cover. I said it suggested that the collection was surreal, sensual, mischievous, and funny, and asked her if this was the impression she wanted people to have. Well, it turns out you can judge a book by its cover, although now that I’ve read it I can add to “surreal”, with the deadpan insight of dreams, and to “sensual,” lyrical and elegant, and to “mischievous,” seriously intelligent, and to “funny,” with an undertow of grief. Reading the book, I kept having flashes of Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery: there’s a similar nonchalant brio at work here and, above all, the same loopy delight in words. Then Nyla sent me a forthcoming interview with rob mclelland in which she talks about her childhood as the source of this linguistic playfulness:
“Growing up, I spoke English at home but I was at a French school... My parents’ mother tongues are Urdu (my mother) and Arabic (my father) ... there is something to all of that, that must have made me want to write … to understand but not speak seems a strange but essential education for a writer.”And then I thought hmmm, to Stevens and Ashbery maybe add the metaphorical logic of the Urdu ghazal and the stubborn idealization of beauty in Arabic love poetry, although those are subjects for a much longer talk, and one I am not competent to deliver. So I’ll leave you with a final thought from Nyla herself, from the same interview, which is a better introduction to her work than anything I can say:
“The larger culture, it seems to me, is concerned now with the image, the instant response, the sardonic tweet, the sound or news bite, the status update and its attendant narcissistic after-effects. Maybe poetry, by asking us to listen to language again, carefully, uncovers something buried? There is a generosity to both writing it and reading it—the time required. The attentiveness and the mindfulness.”If you are familiar with Nyla’s work you will understand exactly what she means. If you’re not, you’re in for a treat.