Thursday, January 14, 2016

A World Without End - Matthew Graham (River City Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
A World Without End.  Matthew Graham.  River City Poetry Series, Vol. Six. River City Publishing.  Montgomery, Alabama.  2005.

Today's book of poetry is ready to fire our entire research staff.  Try as they might, they came up short and almost empty-handed on Matthew Graham.  We know that A World Without End was his third book of poetry.  We will now send out our poetry swat-team to find those two early volumes.   Today's book of poetry sincerely hopes there are other, newer books by Mr. Graham because we need more poets like him.

These poems read like an Edward Hopper painting, you know exactly what you are seeing because the narrative is right in front of you, nothing abstract about it.  You also know, right away, that somehow you are the wiser for it.  Same thing with Graham.  These poems are never sermons (some of our wisest poets fall for that), but he certainly is leading a lesson.

Graham also has a finely tuned sense of humour.  When I read "When I Was a Kid" to K last night she almost fell out of our bed.  If I really want to know if something is good I read it to K, she has the best poetry barometer going.

When I Was a Kid

I thought pubic hair was public
And the perils of Tarzan were his pearls.
I'm still liable to dial 119.
In the late 1950's they didn't know from dyslexia.
You were just stupid
And got your head slammed against the blackboard.
I'm not complaining.
It made me humble and afraid to write.
It made me a quiet person on paper.
And forget about foreign words.
Once in Germany I ordered a pocketbook of coffee
And in a bar, told a Polish guy
I was a female professor.
Yes it all comes back to language,
That evil little dog at the door --
That brief flash we get
And translate as best we can.
Or as a French friends once said
To our boring host after an opulent dinner,
"Thank you. Thank you so much
For your hostility."


The cover art for A World Without End is a painting titled Before The Storm by Graham's wife, the painter Kathryn Waters and it is stunning.

Our intern Kathryn said that she'd happily kill our office techno-wizard Milo for that painting.  The rest of us thought of the painting as forbiddingly tender, much like many of these excellent poems.

What It Comes Down To

It happened in the spring,
A false spring, true, Still,
Birth seemed almost possible
In that shifting season.

Then blood, and starlight
Slipped away from a very small star.

I even had, secretively, names
I liked. One was Tess,
The others don't matter.

My wife cried on her hands and knees
On the kitchen floor.

Suddenly the whole world came down
To a woman crying.


Today's book of poetry was a hopeless romantic mess when reading some of Graham's poetry.  His eulogical poem "News",  dedicated to the late Richard V. Hyatt, misted up my glasses something good.

Matthew Graham's poems make the reader trust the poet.  In a "lead, follow or get out of the way" world Graham is someone you'd happily follow.  He's not shouting directions, his poems simply exude confidence, clarity and wisdom.  Who wouldn't follow that guy.

The Sadness of Summer

Another summer gone,
The clapboard cottage swept clean.
Dust rises and falls along the back roads
Of September. Remember
The bouquets of Queen Anne's lace gracing the breakfast table
Beneath the sheer curtains of June?
There are no boats on the water today.
And as I looked at you in the yard
From the upstairs window, as I saw you bend
And clip the last of the wild daisies
And saw my own reflection,
I thought of all the years quietly gone
That we have touched together
And of the life that we have made
And worn
And have become together.


Today's book of poetry sometimes feels that my selection of three poems is inadequate and today is one of those days.  I have to confess that the three poems I've chosen are not the best three poems from A World Without End.  The three I choose today spoke directly to me and I loved them too much not to share.  It happens.

Andrew Hudgins is a poet I greatly admire and he is the editor for this series of the River City Poetry Series.  Here is what he had to say on the front cover flap about Matthew Graham's A World Without End:

     "A thoughtful, elegiac voice pervades Matthew Graham's A World Without End,
     his new book and best book yet. A small sense of mourning arises even in his
     celebration of deep and continuing love because he knows that love, in the 
     fullness of time, inevitably ends, even if the lovers never falter in their loving.
     That doubled understanding moves him to the richest music in a life's work
     rich in music and meditation. A World Without End is stately without stiffness,
     thoughtful without pretense, humorous without indecorousness, clear without
     simplicity. It offers a pleasure in every line and a fresh moment of insight and
     understanding on every page."

What he said.

Matthew Graham

MATTHEW GRAHAM is the author of two books of poems, New World Architecture (Galileo Press, 1985) and 1946 (Galileo Press, 1991), and the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Indiana Arts Commission, Pushcart, and the Vermont Studio Center.
His poems have appeared in Harvard Magazine, River Styx, and Crab Orchard Review, among many others. He directs the creative writing program at the University of Southern Indiana, where he co-directs the RopeWalk Writers Retreat, and is poetry editor of the Southern Indiana Review.
Graham lives in Evansville, Indiana, and is married to the painter Katie Waters.

"A World Without End is masterful. The pitch of these poems is nearly perfect -- in the way that the poems of Weldon Kees and Donald Justice (two elegant and dour muses hovering behind this book) are nearly perfect. A reader feels that nothing is missing and that there is not a single extraneous syllable. More than this, I admire the maturity and intelligence with which Matthew Graham treats his book's subject: history and its failures, cruelties, oppressions. Beneath the beautifully modulated images, beneath the insouciance which is Graham's brand of stoicism, the bottom has fallen out of the world and the serpents of history hiss. In poem after poem, one is lulled by the beauty and surprised by the brutality. This is a quietly remarkable book."
     - Lynn Emanuel, author of Then, Suddenly, and Hotel Fiesta

"Matthew Graham has been one of the best and the most indispensable poets in America, about America: the dogs of America, the people, the weather, our possessions and our places, the vast matter of what we can and what we cannot afford. In a world where you can hear James Wright singing back-up with Hank Williams, Matthew Graham has a light, tender and elegiac touch that is all his own. Every fine poem here forks over a little wound, and we are better for having had the heard and wit to absorb it."
     - Liam Rector, author of American Prodigal and The Executive Director of the Fallen World



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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