William Matthews Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Curiosities (1989) is a collection of nineteen essays, ranging from personal reflections on William Matthews’s travels in Italy to critical commentaries and reviews of the works of various fellow poets. In The Poetry Blues: Essays and Interviews (2001), Matthews speaks of his love of jazz music, language, poetry, and art. The posthumous volume, edited by Sebastian Matthews and Stanley Plumly, includes an autobiographical essay. With Mary Feeney, Matthews has translated several volumes of poems from the French by Jean Follain, and he also translated The Mortal City: One Hundred Epigrams of Martial (1995).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

A prolific poet and a master of the “deep” or surreal image, in the mode of James Wright and Robert Bly, William Matthews has attracted consistent critical acclaim from fellow poets, from the publication of his first full-length collection, Ruining the New Road, in 1970, but widespread recognition escaped him until the 1990’s. He received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1974, following publication of his second book of poems, and a Guggenheim Fellowship after his fourth book appeared, in 1979. In 1988, he spent a month at the Villa Serbonelli on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. In the years just before his early death, he received more significant recognitions. Matthew won the Union League Civic and Arts Poetry Prize from Poetry magazine in 1993, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1995 for Time and Money, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1997. Noted for his often-aphoristic wit and for his ability to bridge the “inner” and “outer” dimensions of the human condition, Matthews ranged easily among Brahms, basketball, blues, and his own backyard.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Christophersen, Bill. “Late Night Music.” Review of After All: Last Poems. Poetry 174, no. 2 (May, 1999): 99-107. Christophersen pays homage to Matthews in this lengthy, detailed review of the posthumous collection After All. Noting the “sardonic and self-mocking” persona that Matthews often employs, Christophersen calls attention both to the dark tones of these late poems and to the frequent leavening of lighter verse with the “lexicographer’s fondness for words.” Matthews is likened to “a jazzman on a typewriter keyboard, whose music, as the night wore on, just got bluesier.” The review begins with a career overview.

Marowski, Daniel G., ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 40. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. This selection of reviews from literary journals and newspapers contains an entry on Matthews and provides useful secondary material on Matthews’s work.

Matthews, Sebastian. In My Father’s Footsteps. New York: Norton, 2004. In this memoir, the poet’s son recalls his father and his life, death, and legacy.

Matthews, William. “Talking About Poetry with William Matthews.” Ohio Review 13 (Spring, 1972): 32-51. Of interest for information on Matthews’s first two collections, Ruining the New Road and Sleek for the Long Flight.