From the prize-winning poet: “A stunning volume . . . A master of the understatement, Matthews is wryly philosophical and self-deprecating.” —Booklist
When William Matthews died, the day after his fifty-fifth birthday, America lost one of its most important poets, one whose humor and wit were balanced by deep emotion, whose off-the-cuff inventiveness belied the acuity of his verse. Drawing from his eleven collections and including twenty-three previously unpublished poems, Search Party is the essential compilation of this beloved poet's work. Edited by his son, Sebastian Matthews, and William Matthews's friend and fellow poet Stanley Plumly (who also introduces the book), Search Party is an excellent introduction to the poet and his glistening riffs on twentieth-century topics from basketball to food to jazz.
With 11 books of verse in less than 30 years, Matthews (1942 1997) established a secure reputation as a witty and trustworthy commentator on a particular bandwidth of his generation. His poems most of all the touching semi-sonnet sequences of A Happy Childhood (1984) spanned his own experience, from an Ohio small town to Manhattan literary life, with attentive excursions from Maine to Hawaii. Matthews had a way with quotable sayings: "Is love the reward, or the test itself?" His unpretentious free verse and his all-American topics recall slightly older poets such as Philip Levine, Donald Hall and Matthews's friend Gerald Stern. His work stands out, however, for his commitment to jazz, whose giants (most of all Charles Mingus) Matthews commemorates and imitates in off-kilter lines, most of all in 1989's Blues if You Want: "Music's only secret is silence," he wrote there, "It's time/ to play, time to tell whatever you know." His sudden death left a cluster of shocked admirers (including many literary gatekeepers), a posthumous manuscript (After All, 1998) and many uncollected poems. Maryland poet Plumly (Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me) and Matthews's son Sebastian (whose memoir Norton will also release in January) have teamed up to produce what is, despite its title, not a complete poems but an attractive selection, what Plumly deems "the best of" this wry and likable poet's work.