In his latest book of collected poems Cats Creep the Fire to Art (World Audience Publishers, New York, 2008), Matthew Ward has strummed a personal note on various aspects of human life ranging from religion, art, and history to death, depression, women, and self. And there is a separate section Australia that shows glimpses of life in Australia as the author has experienced, especially in his younger years.
Ward’s mode remains nearly the same throughout the six sections of the book, having a feel of a kind of detachment and distance from the scenes or situations in the poems. He does dare talk about the ‘personal’ when he writes about more personal aspects of life, like that of aging in the poem A Valediction: On Approaching Thirty in the Final Days (page 119). What he also does frequently in many of the poems is using allusions, Dickens’ Magwitch for example in the aforementioned poem, which demands a well-read reader to better grasp the message(s) in his poems. This is more the case when he writes about religion and history. To understand Ward, therefore, one has to have basic background knowledge of these subjects.
The section Australia will presumably be enjoyed better by Australian readers, those who have witnessed the ever-bright sun which Ward mentions (sometimes with repugnance) or the shore and Newcastle Show which linger in the poet’s memory. A more enjoyable section for this reviewer is Art and the Metaphysical. Here, the poems sound more musical and have a broader meaning for all readers; for example, the poems Regeneration (page 63) and Spider (page 65); and this makes the section more appealing for any creative soul as the poems’ rhythm resonates with their message(s). The poems in the section Women relate to the section’s theme very indirectly.
At quite a few places, Ward uses stylistics, like shape poetry of a few lines within in a poem, making eye-catchers. The variety of themes prevents building up of monotony and only a few poems are long enough to be divided into cantos. On the whole, Cats Creep the Fire to Art suits the taste of readers who don’t mind thinking awhile over a poem or even give the latter a second read to grasp the message(s) therein.