161.1: Matt McBride:: Black & Cincinnati & Inside Every Bird 161

The delight of Matt McBride’s poems is in their invention. These pieces are compressed, tight, and terse, so they rely on careful turns and the element of surprise. Reading them, I feel as if his poetics as a kind of thievery—not in the content, heavens no—but in their engagement with the imagination. “Inside Every Bird” begins:

            Inside Every Bird

            is a penny
            with a silhouette
            of your father as an infant.

Every poetic image has to deal with its implications just as every poetic symbol possesses its implications. A penny with a silhouette of an infantile Lincoln must reconcile why this “father’s” diminutive age is even a factor in the poem’s subtext. Why not just mention Lincoln by name? Why is it inside every bird? If I could round up all the birds and extract money from their interiors, would I be rich? These poems fragment their imagery and referents and see the world as a grand web of distortion. Where they fail to make logical sense the imagination behind them growls in a vibrato. They often require a second read or multiple reads, despite their short form. They often seem incomplete, until their completion coheres. Unlike the haiku/Vorticism complex that Pound articulated over a century ago, McBride's poems require a mental urgency, a need for readerly participation. Pound never lived up to the imagination of a poet like Stevens; the two were simply cut from different strands of cloth. McBride is more like the latter, and his poems challenge the reader to make completions, to deal with odd and jarring imagistic and lyrical juxtapositions. All satisfaction is there, but it is all in the game, yo. Cody Todd


Most of smoke is ash;
photographs are shadow only—

clouds, memories of the starless
slate into which they fold.

I’ve known you forever.
I’m waiting by the ocean

and you’re the man in the moon.
Night won’t acknowledge us

whistling cold, you telling me
the depth of the ocean

me telling you
about the cotton in my bones.


The tag made it vintage.

The coffee-colored water
stained everything.

A riot neglected.

I remember your face was neither

as skim of Bible pages
coated the Ohio.

Inside Every Bird

is a penny
with a silhouette
of your father as an infant.

The light in photographs

the silence particular to elevators—

is only a part of itself.