"The road is what the car drinks/traveling on its tongue of light/all the way home." With lines like these William Matthews has created a body of work that stands alone in American poetry. Witty, sophisticated, yet lucid, his poems bring the reader refreshing insights into the everyday world of sports, music, wine, psychology, homes, pets, love, children, and literature. In the course of a brilliant career Matthews has also translated poems from French, Latin, and Bulgarian. In this first selection culled from his complete body of work, readers who have never sampled Matthews's poetry, or who cannot find it in print, will be able to take the measure of one of our most versatile and original poets. Matthews characteristically watches "the lights come on/in the valley, like bright type/being set in another language." Illuminating and thoughtful, his poems speak the truth in a way that prompted Peter Stitt, one of our most respected critics, to write that "William Matthews may be the wisest poet of his generation." In writing about W.H. Auden, Matthews could be describing himself: "The language has used him/ well and passed him through./We get what he has collected." This book, which includes some previously uncollected poems and translations, also draws on nine previous volumes: Ruining the New Road, Sleek for the Long Flight, Sticks & Stones, Rising and Falling, Selected Translations from Jean Follain, Flood, A Happy Childhood (that astonishing collection of poems with titles from Freud), Foreseeable Futures, and Blues If You Want, as well as translations from Martial and contemporary Bulgarian poets. "Our true subject is loneliness," he writes. "We've been divorced 1.5 times/per heart." "But think/with your body: not to be dead is to be/sexual, vivid, tender and harsh, a riot/of mixed feelings, and able to choose."
About the Author
William Matthews won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1995 and the Ruth Lilly Award of the Modern Poetry Association in 1997. Born in Cincinnati in 1942, he was educated at Yale University and the University of North Carolina. At the time of his death in 1997, he was a professor of English and director of the writing program at the City University of New York.
"This collection brings together more than 100 poems, chosen from eight previously published volumes, and 40 translations from the French, Latin and Bulgarian. The prodigious output is uneven. Matthews's ( Ruining the New Road ) work is well crafted and rich in imagery, but tends to be overly cerebral. The poet intellectualizes; he explains. Sometimes this tendency manifests itself in a surfeit of cleverness, as in the poem ``Funeral Homes'': The poem becomes a disquisition on a theme, the language puffed up. Happily, the poet fights his own worst tendencies. Influenced by Freud, he takes as his weapons memory and dreams. When Matthews recalls a specific experience, the poems edge on the anecdotal and nostalgic, as if he knew what he thought before he began the poem, and simply recorded that knowledge, prettily. But he also wants something else--to find ``a real lost child''--and his search takes on the second kind of memory, which includes risk and discovery, the psyche's uncovering of what wasn't consciously known. In his best work, Matthews enters new territory, producing a flood of language that traces the ongoing revision of perception." Publishers Weekly
"This vibrant sampling of translations and poems from Matthews's eight published volumes demonstrates why he has stymied the categorizers for two decades. Sui generis among a generation of all-too-easily pigeonholed poets, he is a master of the left-field lyric, a metaphysical wit who never fails to surprise with lethal bon mots (``grief/ is a species of prestige'') and extraterrestrial simile (``the lights come on/ in the valley, like bright type/ being set in another language''). Reading Matthews is like driving at night with a slightly mad but compassionate and, above all, lucky companion who always seems to find a map to the unsayable in the nick of time. We might wish for more poets like him, but the wish would be impossible." -- Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, N.Y.
"From his 1979 collection RISING AND FALLING, the late William Matthews's poem "Foul Shots: A Clinic" uses basketball as an analogy to discuss the relationship between craft and genius, practice and performance. After a technical discussion of stance, aim, and so on, Matthews writes: "Ignore this part of the clinic / and shoot 200 foul shots / every day. Teach yourself not to be / bored by any boring one of them. / You have to love to do this / and chances are you fellow poets, had in his work an enviable blend of craft and inspiration, a jazzman's flow and an architect's precision. SELECTED POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS, which includes his best work culled from more than 20 years of writing, is the best starting point for readers interested in Matthews's remarkable career." Amazon.com