William Matthews

William Matthews Poems

I read to the entire plebe class,
in two batches. Twice the hall filled
with bodies dressed alike, each toting
a copy of my book. What would my
...

"First, do no harm," the Hippocratic
Oath begins, but before she might enjoy
such balm, the docs had to harm her tumor.
It was large, rare, and so anomalous
...

I like divorce. I love to compose
letters of resignation; now and then
I send one in and leave in a lemon-
hued Huff or a Snit with four on the floor.
...

Most of the time he worked, a sort of sleep
with a purpose, so far as I could tell.
How he got from the dark of sleep
to the dark of waking up I'll never know;
...

What did I think, a storm clutching a clarinet
and boarding a downtown bus, headed for lessons?
I had pieces to learn by heart, but at twelve
...

Frail friends, I love you all!
Maybe that's the trouble,
storm in the eye of a storm.
Everyone wants too much.
...

Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch's wife
He would have written sonnets all his life?
DON JUAN, III, 63-4
...

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
...

My mother stands at the screen door, laughing.
“Out out damn Spot,” she commands our silly dog.
I wonder what this means. I rise into adult air
...

The lump of coal my parents teased
I'd find in my Christmas stocking
turned out each year to be an orange,
for I was their sunshine.
...

11.

the only parts of the body the same
size at birth as they'll always be.
'That's why all babies are beautiful,'
Thurber used to say as he grew
...

So here the great man stood,
fermenting malice and poems
we have to be nearly as fierce
against ourselves as he
...

Here we picked wild strawberries,
though in my memory we're neither here
nor missing. Or I'd scuff out
by myself at dusk, proud
...

Already this description
is perilously abstract: the ball
and basket are round, the nailhead
...

Usually I stay up late, my time
alone. Tonight at 9o I can tell
I'm only awake long enough
to put my sons to bed.
...

Stains on the casements,
dustmotes, spiderless webs.
No chairs, and a man waking up,
...

17.

February on the narrow beach, 3o
A.M. I set out south. Cape Cod Light
on its crumbling cliff above me turns
its wand of light so steadily
...

18.

Walking with Jesus the slow,
behind the beat. Mr. Resistance.
Mr. Ohm, Mr. Exactly Lame.
...

Baudelaire: 'The dead, the poor dead, have their bad hours.'
But the dead have no watches, no grief and no hours.

At first not smoking took all my time: I did it
...

A snake is the love of a thumb
and forefinger.
Other times, an arm
...

William Matthews Biography

an American poet and essayist. Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Matthews earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University, and a master's from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to serving as a Writer-in-Residence at Boston's Emerson College, Matthews held various academic positions at institutions including Cornell University, the University of Washington (Seattle), the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Iowa. He served as president of Associated Writing Programs and of the Poetry Society of America. At the time of his death he was a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at City College of New York A reading series has been named for him at City College of New York. His son is Sebastian Matthews.)

The Best Poem Of William Matthews

A Poetry Reading At West Point

I read to the entire plebe class,
in two batches. Twice the hall filled
with bodies dressed alike, each toting
a copy of my book. What would my
shrink say, if I had one, about
such a dream, if it were a dream?

Question and answer time.
"Sir," a cadet yelled from the balcony,
and gave his name and rank, and then,
closing his parentheses, yelled
"Sir" again. "Why do your poems give
me a headache when I try

to understand them?" he asked. "Do
you want that?" I have a gift for
gentle jokes to defuse tension,
but this was not the time to use it.
"I try to write as well as I can
what it feels like to be human,"

I started, picking my way care-
fully, for he and I were, after
all, pained by the same dumb longings.
"I try to say what I don't know
how to say, but of course I can't
get much of it down at all."

By now I was sweating bullets.
"I don't want my poems to be hard,
unless the truth is, if there is
a truth." Silence hung in the hall
like a heavy fabric. My own
head ached. "Sir," he yelled. "Thank you. Sir."


Anonymous submission.

William Matthews Comments

Elizabeth Smith 26 April 2014

He was my stepfather-can't say you would have loved to have met him-he did have a great sense of humor and was brilliant. Still..complicated soul, let's just say that.

1 6 Reply
V P Mahur 11 February 2014

I like the poem 'I Like'. lovely

2 3 Reply
Martin O'Neill 11 February 2012

Just beautiful writing to gladden the soul from having read it. I would so have loved to have met him. The world is a poorer place without him.

43 85 Reply

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