Three Questions for Robin Matthews

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That
is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

When I was first writing poetry (which was shortly after I started
reading poetry) my poems were very imitative. I used rhyming a lot, and
precise forms like sonnets. I’ve done a lot of moving around in my
life, and most of those early poems I lost long ago. But I still have
some of the later sonnets and rhymed poems, and I think they are quite
good. The effort of conforming to an imposed structure was very useful
in channeling creativity. Of course in the best such poems the reader
(or listener) does not even realize that there is a structure.

That said, I no longer write that way. I suppose I still could write a
sonnet, but I prefer to let the words find their own structure. Which
is not to say that I just sit down and write a bunch of words on paper
and say okay, there’s the poem. Sometimes I can work for days on a
poem, then get disgusted with the effort, put it aside, come upon it
days or weeks or years later and finish it. There is a short poem called
“Transfiguration” which I wrote in 1965. It involved an image that came
to me suddenly, as I was walking through the woods, and demanded to be
expressed. I wrote it down immediately, but it did not seem right. I
worked on it on and off, and then I arrived at a version that I thought
was the best I could do. And that was that, I thought. Almost forty
years later, in 2014, I revisited the poem, and in a couple of hours
rewrote it into what I now consider the really final version. And I
consider it among the better poems I have written.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human
body? Or between your writing and your body?

I take a walk through the woods most mornings. Sometimes I just walk,
breathe the air, exercise my lungs and heart and assorted muscles, but
on really good days ideas come to me for poems. I usually write myself
a note, or make a journal entry, as soon as I get home. Later,
sometimes much later, I will come back and try to turn it into a poem.
Away from home I also find that solitary walking is most conducive to
poetry. I feel that the rhythm of my walking is reflected in the metre
of the poem.
.
3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Well, it would be nice if you could earn a living doing it. It would be
nice if people did not look at a loss for words when they hear you are
one. It would be nice if words followed words more easily on the page.
But it is what it is.
Brief Bio:

Life has been varied and good. It has included growing up in rural New
Jersey, becoming a printing pressman (always something to fall back on
for money), a blessedly brief stint in the Vietnam-era army,
establishing and co-editing a poetry magazine called Sanskaras in New
York during the late 1960s, a spell as a hippy in northern New Mexico
and Albuquerque, followed by creative writing at Goddard College, a try
at organic farming, a long, happy spell as a computer programmer in
Washington, DC, and nowadays a comfortable retirement in an old
farmhouse on 40 acres in Virginia. I have two daughters and two
grand-daughters, all deeply loved. Recently and most pleasingly, Amador
Publishers in Albuquerque has published a collection of my poetry,
“Another Spring” as part of their Worldwind Books Poetry Series.

Here is a very recent poem:

Tally

A very large oak sits
northwest of the house
on the hill above the driveway.
It was once the smallest of three
growing very close
and forming one crown together
until a freak summer storm
eighteen years ago
took down the other two
and left this one still leaning
away from the missing two.

The measured girth today is
slightly over eleven feet
and it leans now more than ever.
I can see where the earth
is lifted somewhat
on the side away from the lean.

The other two went down
directly across the drive
and blocked it for weeks
while being cleared away.
This one leans toward the house,
but if it fell it would reach
perhaps the edge of the lawn
and maybe take down the magnolia
without threatening the house.
It would leave a big hole
in the green canopy were it gone,
so I will not mess with it.
It may well outlive me,
still leaning.

When we bought this place
there were three huge pines
shading the front lawn.
I thought they would live forever,
but two are gone.
Drought and beetles, partly,
but I think mostly old age.
The huge hickory in the backyard
went down in a gust of wind,
luckily falling away from the house;
I counted ninety-seven rings.

Well, it is sometimes surprising,
the things, and the people, we outlive.

There are about thirty acres of woods
that I treasure or neglect,
depending on your point of view.
I mostly leave them undisturbed,
except to abolish kudzu and poison ivy,
and to maintain my paths.
They reward me by changing slowly.
Right now they are poised on the brink.
The maples are red-tipped,
the beeches still bear last year’s leaves
and stand about like a ghost forest.

Close to the house
spring is moving along.
The daffodils are already flowering
and the tulips are up, not quite budding,
the azaleas and rhododendrons are primed.
Both the birds and the frogs
have become very vocal
in the last few days.

There is apparently something
very major that Einstein predicted
about gravitational waves
that is now confirmed.
I take it on trust, it is beyond me.

A friend I met at Spence Springs —
this was two years ago —
believed that Gravity was God.
It perplexed me,
but now he tells me it is proven.

I no longer doubt it.
Robin Matthews
Charlotte County, Virginia
March 2016

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