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Matthews, William. "Talking about Poetry: An Interview with William Matthews." [Interview by Wayne Dodd and Stanley Plumly (on April 12-13, 1972 in Athens, Ohio)]. Ohio Review 13:3 (1972): 33-51. Revell, Donald. "'The Deep En-leaving Has Now Come': Ammons, Matthews, Simic, and Cole." Ohio Review 41 (1988): 116-132.
MATTHIAS, JOHN (1941- ) John Matthiass poetry is as grounded in British traditions as it is in American culture. While his work has been influenced by major American poets, including Robert duncan and Ezra pound, it is also very much influenced by the work of the Welsh poet David Jones. Like Pound and
Jones, Matthias is deeply concerned with giving language the weight of its lost historical and philosophical connotations. In fact, one of Matthias's most important contributions to poetry is the way he takes language and imbues it with a richness of association, often by writing about found texts in the context of the history and landscape from which they came. The critic Vincent Sherry notes the power this kind of activity can have for readers at a time when so many of the stories once considered central to Western civilization have lost their immediate familiarity. "Matthias," writes Sherry, "offers from his word-hoard and reference-trove the splendid otherness of unfamiliar speech; on the other hand, this is our familiar tongue, our own language in its deeper memory and resonance" (145).
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Matthias attended Ohio State University, then went on to study English literature at Stanford in 1963. While there he was a member of a group of young poets studying under Yvor winters, a group that included two future U.S. poets laureates, Robert pinsky and Robert hass. Deeply involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement and drawn toward the countercultural world of San Francisco, Matthias nevertheless left the Bay Area in 1966 to write poetry and pursue his studies in England. A professor as well as a poet, Matthias began teaching at the University of Notre Dame in 1967. He has published eight books of poetry, as well as translations from Swedish and Serbian, and has edited two books on Jones.
Matthias's poetry is driven by three sets of contrary impulses. In the poems of his first three books (Bucyrus , Turns , and Crossings ), for example, we find Matthias pulled toward political activism, on the one hand, and a playful aestheticism, on the other. In "The Stefan Batory Poems" (1979), he even says of himself that "Prospero whispers in one ear / And Lenin in the other." Another tension in his work comes from the conflict between the desire to write lucid, personal lyrics and the attraction of arcane reference and formal experimentation. A further set of contrary impulses in Matthias's work is the pull toward the geographic particularities of places where he has lived (especially England) and the lure of the imaginative work of artists from long ago and far away: He is simultaneously a poet of place and a profoundly intertextual poet, writing about landscapes and making use of the texts associated with those landscapes. "Northern Summer" (1984) and "A Compostella Diptych" (1991) are exemplary poems of this kind. These contradictions do not make for incoherence, however: It is through orchestrating them into a music of his own that Matthias defines his singular place in American poetry.
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