About Matthew Francis

Matthew Francis was born in Hampshire in 1956 and educated at the City of London School and Magdalene College, Cambridge. After more than ten years in the IT industry, he enrolled at Southampton University in 1994 to study for a PhD in English. He is the author of five collections of poetry, Whereabouts (rufus books, 2005), Blizzard (1996), Dragons (2001), Mandeville (2008), and his latest, Muscovy (2013; all Faber). His work has twice been shortlisted for the Forward Prize, and in 2004 he was chosen as one of the Next Generation poets. He is also the editor of W.S. Graham’s New Collected Poems, and author of a critical study of Graham, Where the People Are (2004). His first novel, WHOM, was published by Bloomsbury in 1989; more recently, he has published a collection of short stories, Singing a Man to Death (Cinnamon Press), which was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year Award in 2013. His second novel, The Book of the Needle, is published by Cinnamon in 2014. He lives in west Wales and lectures in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

Reviewers have often commented on Francis’s imaginative gift for exploring scenarios that are at once fantastical and historically situated. Mandeville, a suite of forty poems, re-imagines John Mandeville’s at least partially invented fourteenth century travel diary in a modern idiom. With its descriptions of fabulous beasts and strange landscapes, the poems manage to defamiliarise our recorded world, so the reader can re-encounter its strangeness through the eyes of a medieval traveller. Muscovy, the title poem of Francis’s most recent collection, similarly charts Andrew Marvell’s undocumented travels around Russia in the 1660s. Francis is a poet as interested in the constraints of form as he is in lavish description and open narrative frameworks; the influence of Oulipian techniques is visible in his recent work, as well as evidence of a more traditional formal dexterity, as in the pantoum-like structure of ‘Beestorm in West Middlesex.’ The appearance of John Keats in ‘By the Forge’ confirms the range and versatility of Francis’s imaginative terrain, while proving that the overlapping borders of texts, unclassifiable as fact, folk-tale, or deliberate invention, especially the foggy margins of literary history, are zones in which the human urge to create stories and explanations becomes particularly powerful, and remain extraordinarily rich sources of inspiration for his distinctive poetry.

This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 15 November 2013 at ID Audio and was produced by John Green.

Matthew Francis's favourite poetry sayings

‘Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.’ – Marianne Moore.

‘If we were in the habit of reading poets their obscurity would not matter; and, once we are out of the habit, their clarity does not help.’ – Randall Jarrell.

 

Poems by Matthew Francis

Beestorm in West Middlesex - Matthew Francis
By the Forge - Matthew Francis
Of the Phoenix - Matthew Francis
Lunar Passage - Matthew Francis
Matthew Francis in the Poetry Store

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