It’s long been my contention — indeed, it’s part of the impetus for this site — that the performance of writing meant for the page opens a window onto the work and its author. By listening to the voice of the poet or fiction writer, or by watching him or her at a microphone, you gain insights into the author’s personality and mindset that can enrich your appreciation and understanding of the work. In the case of poet Nyla Matuk, that may be doubly true.
Although Matuk has just released her first full collection of poetry, Sumptuary Laws
, she’s been working at her art for a while. In his exhaustive, analytical review
of her collection, Stewart Cole (no relation to me) wrote that he suspects many of the poems have been “brewing” for a decade. “This is the antithesis,” Cole wrote, “of … the rushed-into-print debut.” He also mentioned having discovered Matuk’s work at a book launch, “and in hearing her read was immediately struck by the lushness of diction, the risky willingness to disorient rhetorically, and the overall impression of uniqueness her work conveyed.”
So, that’s one, quite learned, impression of Matuk’s work, taken initially from a public performance. And I think it’s one reflected in the reading she has given to AuthorsAloud. The Nyla Matuk you meet when you listen to her poems and her insight
here is a serious artist, dedicated to her diction, as it were. And that’s an important part of her.
But I’d suggest there’s another Nyla Matuk, and it’s the one I witnessed myself at a reading last night, at the Black Swan pub on the Danforth in Toronto. It’s the Nyla Matuk of shy and wry humour. She creates a strong, confident impression at the microphone, there’s nothing timid in her demeanor. But she’s quick to dispel any sense of self-seriousness, lamenting with a smile “all the sad and serious poems,” the “existentially morose pieces” she frequently reads. For the audience at the Black Swan, she wanted to “spice it up,” she said. So she read us a poem about lust, and another about the Mad Men
character Don Draper (“You’re the dark dew on the green grass of home”).
I wish more public readings happened this way, although I admit not everyone is suited to it. But as a general rule, playfulness like Matuk’s doesn’t diminish one’s impression of the artist, it enhances it. The willingness to be self-deprecating at a reading lets the audience in, which inevitably allows a clearer, more complete picture of the work. In the case of Nyla Matuk, I’d say the effect was altogether admirable.