Monday, January 16, 2006
In Graham's new book of poetry, A World Without End, past and future meet
In A World Without End, his third book of poetry, Graham muses over the internal missions that are seeded within us from birth, and how our environments define and transform us.
The poems describe a childhood infused with adult longing (collecting fireflies in a jelly jar becomes a precognitive exercise); an adulthood choked with memories (daylight savings time becomes an excuse to invoke the past); and the redemption of love, as passing time provides the medium and grace for mistakes to be forgiven:
Time turns us all … toward the inevitable struggle between opening and closing, between the waiting and the going somewhere.
A World Without End is the sixth volume of the River City Poetry Series. Series editor Andrew Hudgins said, “A thoughtful elegiac voice pervades A World Without End, Matthew’s best book yet. A small sense of mourning arises even in his celebration of deep and continuing love because he knows 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 work rich in music and meditation. A World Without End is stately without stiffness, thoughtful without pretense, humorous without being indecorous, clear without being simple. It offers a pleasure in every line and a fresh moment of insight and understanding on every page.”
Graham described the thematic organization of the book as “fairly chronological, moving from childhood to adulthood and the death of a parent – the first circle of adult hell. The speaker in the childhood poems seems to know or sense more than he should about himself and the future, and the speaker in the adulthood poems is many times looking back at his past for answers to the present.
"In the last poem in the book these two themes come together. While scattering his mother’s ashes in a lake, the speaker notices a boy in the distance skipping rocks. The speaker sees his past and the boy sees his future.”
He said he refers to “the speaker” instead of himself because the poems aren’t necessarily autobiographical.
“I think there is some distancing between me and the speaker in the poems. There’s some fictionalizing going on. Plus there is always the difference between the writing self and the written self,” he said.
When asked what he hoped the reader would gain from the book, he said, “I would hope that a reader would find the book interesting in a pleasurable way. And maybe by getting to see the world as I see it at this age and in this place, they might recognize it as something they too know, only now, in a new way.”
Graham’s wife, Kathryn Waters, chair of the Department of Art, Music, and Theatre, provided her painting “Before the Storm” for the cover of A World Without End. Her work also graced the cover of his previous book of poetry, 1946 (Galileo Press, 1991).
He said marrying a painter has taught him how to see.
“She’s taught me too see color and to see variations of light and shadow,” he said. “I think this insight has added more dimension to my details, to my images.”
In addition to 1946, Graham is the author of New World Architecture (Galileo Press, 1985). His poems have appeared in Harvard Magazine, River Styx, and Crab Orchard Review, among many others.
He is co-director and co-founder of the RopeWalk Writers Retreat and the RopeWalk Writers Winter Retreat, as well as the RopeWalk Visiting Writers Series, and is poetry editor of the Southern Indiana Review.
Graham is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Maryland State Arts Council First Book Award, two literary fellowships from the Indiana Arts Commission, and a fellowship from the Vermont Arts Studio.
He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, an MA from John Hopkins University, and a BA from the State University of New York at Binghamton.