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  • Sarah Sophia Yanni

(SPAM Cuts) 'notes' by Matt Mitchell

Glasgow tenement flats at dusk. The sky is dark, greyish blue and the flats glow orange. Two arms reach to hold hands –– one of them emerging from the top flat, the other emerging from the bottom. Both are digital illustrations, marked by white pen outline.
Image: Alice Hill-Woods

In this luminous SPAM Cut, Sarah Sophia Yanni unbundles scale and proximity, the ghosts of feeling and love’s soft, illusory qualities in Matt Mitchell's poem, 'notes'.

I truly cannot be bothered to come up with poem titles in 2021; it’s a task that feels more and more insurmountable with time. I do, however, love the idea of notation as form. Of thoughts gathered casually, unattached to linear logic –– simply there, together, dumped. In a sense I’m just envious that I’ve never thought to title a poem ‘notes’. Instead, I’ve forced myself to conjure a single word or phrase that captures some essential core of what I’m trying to say (and really, does it ever?).

Matt Mitchell’s ‘notes’ is the final poem in a group of three, published this February in Hobart, one of my favorite digital journals. All three of Mitchell’s poems think about ~existence~, musing on time and space with a punchy wit and nods to friendship and softness.

A title as simple as ‘notes’ allows the poem to be so much, to be anything it wants to be. It can function as a jumble of ideas, and it’s up to the reader to see how they connect. In this case, though, they do. Each disparate stanza feels connected and resonant, and the final product is a striking piece of writing that made me embarrassingly emotional.

The opening couplet of ‘notes’ is direct, specific, and after my own heart: ‘I cannot sleep until I listen to / radio ga ga by queen 23 times in a row’. Perhaps I am biased, because I have a particular attachment to this song (it is a serotonin kickstarter when I am in a mentally unwell place). But I am also drawn to ritual, to the number 23, to the idea of control and compulsion. Sleep cannot be allowed without first performing this sacred act. We create these routines for ourselves, in both small and large ways, and they don’t have to make sense to be real.

Mitchell’s confessionals oscillate from dark to funny to the wonderful tonality in between. The line ‘b/c there is no god, hehe’ will play in my brain forever, as if taken straight from my own late-night thoughts. And late night feels like the ample setting for many of these notes. Memories of family members that only resurface when it’s quiet in your apartment; musings on childhood, towns, death, TV movement, and, of course, capitalist apocalypse.

I was especially struck by the stanza:

My great aunt once dated a guy who played pro baseball for cleveland. maybe they were just friends, but in my mind they loved each other. she sat at his bedside when he was sick.

Calling to mind childhood perceptions of romance, this stanza is a coming-of-age smushed into five lines. There’s something compassionate about returning to your previous self, of voicing the thoughts that younger self had. And there’s something so moving about how, even with such little information, and at such a young age, we’re able to gather a sense of feeling. In our bodies, we can project what we think adoration might be. Even when we know so little about the world, these things are known to us.

Immediately following that stanza:

my bucket list is nothing but visiting that place in america where you can touch 4 states at one time.

And don’t we all want to feel small among a grand, geographic overlap? Where borders blur and we’re anywhere and nowhere at once?

The truest gut-punch is the closing couplet: ‘because I’d sit alone / and watch your light’. The ‘because’ here referring to reasons why the speaker hopes the world ends. This insanely tender pair of lines makes me think of sitting on a hill at dusk. Everything is quiet, maybe it’s even obliterated, but there’s some ghost of feeling still there. Perhaps that’s where we all arrive, eventually. And perhaps this poem is really all about love, or maybe I’m just being optimistic.


Text: Sarah Sophia Yanni

Image: Alice Hill-Woods

Published: 12/5/21


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