Reviews

Poems to Settle into in “House of Sound”

A review of Matthew Daddona's debut poetry collection, "House of Sound"

We’ve become wanderers in our own backyards these days. Without my daily commute on the bus and the random interactions with strangers that often come with it, I’ve found myself becoming more curious on my afternoon walks. I like to spot pets peeking their heads through open apartment windows, give a mask-veiled smile out of habit to those I meet eyes with, and share a moment of admiration with the people who have also stopped to watch the lake’s waves crash to shore. Matthew Daddona’s House of Sound is a debut poetry collection for this moment, when our connections with others remain distant and our minds travel even if our bodies can’t. 

As its title suggests, House of Sound is meant to be read aloud. The collection’s speaker is a ponderer who lingers upon the ambient noises of life, including the late-night caterwauls of pigeons, the chimes of a grandfather’s grandfather clock, and the clink of spare change. While these may first appear as understated premises, Daddona carefully crafts every stanza, line, and word to evoke powerful auditory sensations in the reader. These are poems to live in, to settle into the images of a natural world at its most serene. And through this intimacy, a larger sense of the inner self emerges. 

In “Tymbals,” the speaker sits in his garden and listens to the cicadas screech while his phone rings in the distance. At the turn of the poem, Daddona blends these two prevailing sounds in order to draw the speaker inward and note:

“Whenever the phone zings

I pretend the cicadas will answer

and play back a memory

a hundred times over. No, I have not yet

unloved. No, I have tried

to bring you back.”

Through his careful use of the auditory, Daddona turns small interactions into grand, internal journeys without losing the intimacy that exists at the heart of his work. Beneath even the most ordinary sights lie deceptively complex ideas, and his poems often unfurl into meditations on aging and nostalgia, loneliness and grief. Here, every sound readers say aloud become the echo of something greater, such as in “The Lesson”:

“I know this: Sound can make

a heart break like glass 

and that there are two sounds

for every 

one heart.

First the

scream and then

the breaking.”

Ultimately, House of Sound is built upon the paradoxes of our desires. With each move toward the internal workings of the speaker, it becomes clear that this intimacy readers feel is also marked by loneliness and longing, and the desire to truly connect with another is undercut by the urge to turn away. Daddona effectively  probes this contradiction with passages such as “If every action has an equal and opposite reaction,/ how do I tell you I love you/ and then will it away?” In “The Prospect of Free Speech,” the second poem in the collection’s final section titled “Human Touch,” this longing for connection adopts an ominous tone:

“I keep phone numbers like knives

at a safe distance from me

so I can’t call them on a whim

or chop them up 

and rearrange them

into new numbers I imagine”

House of Sound is sure to resonate with those who find themselves  wanderers these days, because it never attempts to settle this internal strife. As his poems linger and travel without the speaker ever physically going anywhere, Daddona explores our competing desires with confidence and comfort in such uncertainty. Midway through the collection he writes “All things that have opposites are generated from their opposites,” which can perhaps be viewed as a way to read the entire series. This collection is for the daydreamers and the fatalists, the mournful and the yearnful and the hopeful. The speaker shows that we can be so close to something as to hear its music and yet still remain so far as to never be touched by it. But Daddona assures us that connections can be born from any distance.

As its title suggests, House of Sound is meant to be read aloud. The collection’s speaker is a ponderer who lingers upon the ambient noises of life, including the late-night caterwauls of pigeons, the chimes of a grandfather’s grandfather clock, and the clink of spare change. While these may first appear as understated premises, Daddona carefully crafts every stanza, line, and word to evoke powerful auditory sensations within the reader. I found myself returning to particularly melodic passages multiple times just to let them roll off my tongue in that perfect way. These are poems to live in, to settle into the intimate images of a natural world at its most serene. And through this intimacy, something larger takes hold. 

In “Tymbals,” the speaker sits in his garden and listens to the cicadas screech while his phone rings in the distance. At the turn of the poem, Daddona blends these two prevailing sounds in order to draw the speaker inward and note:

“Whenever the phone zings

I pretend the cicadas will answer
and play back a memory


a hundred times over. No, I have not yet
unloved. No, I have tried

to bring you back.”

Through his careful use of the auditory, Daddona turns small interactions into grand, internal journeys without losing the intimacy that exists at the heart of his work. Beneath even the most ordinary sights lie deceptively complex ideas, as his poems often unfurl into meditations on aging and nostalgia, loneliness and grief. Here, every sound readers call aloud to themselves become the echo of something greater, such as in “The Lesson”:

“I know this: Sound can make
a heart break like glass 
and that there are two sounds
for every 
one heart.

First the
scream and then
the breaking.”

Ultimately, House of Sound is built upon the paradoxes of our desires. With each move toward the internal workings of the speaker, it becomes clear that this intimacy readers feel is also marked by loneliness and longing, as well as a desire to truly connect with another person undercut by an urge to turn away. It’s a constant contradiction that doesn’t fit neatly into words, but Daddona does well to probe with passages such as “If every action has an equal and opposite reaction,/ how do I tell you I love you/ and then will it away?” And in “The Prospect of Free Speech,” the second poem in the collection’s final part titled “Human Touch,” this longing for connection adopts an ominous tone:

“I keep phone numbers like knives
at a safe distance from me
so I can’t call them on a whim
or chop them up 
and rearrange them
into new numbers I imagine”

House of Sound is sure to resonate with anyone who finds themselves a wanderer these days, because it never attempts to settle this internal strife. As his poems linger and travel without the speaker ever physically going anywhere, Daddona explores our competing desires with such confidence and comfort in uncertainty. In fact, midway through the collection he writes “All things that have opposites are generated from their opposites,” which can perhaps be viewed as a way to read the entire series. This collection is for the daydreamers and the dreadful, the mournful and the yearnful and the hopeful. The speaker shows that we can be so close to something as to hear its music and yet still remain so far as to never be touched by it. But Daddona assures us that connections can be born from any distance.

POETRY
House of Sound
By Matthew Daddona
Trail to Table
Published October 22, 2020

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