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William Matthews


Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 11, 1942, William Matthews earned a BA from Yale University and an MA from the University of North Carolina.

During his lifetime he published eleven books of poetry, including Time & Money (1996), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Selected Poems and Translations 1969-1991 (1992); Blues If You Want (1989); A Happy Childhood (1984); Rising and Falling (1979); Sticks and Stones (1975); and Ruining the New Road (1970). Collections published posthumously include Search Party: Collected Poems, edited by his son Sebastian Matthews and Stanley Plumly (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and After All: Last Poems (1998). He was also the author of a book of essays entitled Curiosities (1989).

William Matthews served as president of Associated Writing Programs and of the Poetry Society of America, and as a member and chair of the Literature Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. He received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and in April 1997 he was awarded the Ruth Lilly Prize. He taught at several schools, including Wells College, Cornell University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Washington. At the time of his death he was a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at New York's City College. He died of a heart attack on November 12, 1997, the day after his fifty-fifth birthday.

A Selected Bibliography


After All: Last Poems (1998)
Time & Money: New Poems (1995)
Selected Poems & Translations, 1969-1991 (1992)
Blues If You Want (1989)
Foreseeable Futures (1987)
A Happy Childhood (1984)
Flood (1982)
Rising and Falling (1979)
Stick and Stones (1975)
An Oar in the Old Water (1974)
Sleek for the Long Flight: New Poems (1972)
The Cloud (1971)
Ruining the New Road (1970)
Broken Syllables (1969)


The Mortal City: 100 Epigrams of Martial (1995)
A World Rich in Anniversaries: Prose Poems, (1979)
Removed from Time (1977)


Curiosities (1989)

William Matthews
Photo credit: Star Black

By This Poet


The Bear at the Dump

Amidst the too much that we buy and throw
away and the far too much we wrap it in,
the bear found a few items of special
interest--a honeydew rind, a used tampon,
the bone from a leg of lamb. He'd rock back
lightly onto his rear paws and slash
open a plastic bag, and then his nose--
jammed almost with a surfeit of rank
and likely information, for he would pause--
and then his whole dowsing snout would
insinuate itself a little way
inside. By now he'd have hunched his weight 
forward slightly, and then he'd snatch it back,
trailed by some tidbit in his teeth. He'd look
around. What a good boy am he.
The guardian of the dump was used
to this and not amused. "He'll drag that shit
every which damn way," he grumbled
who'd dozed and scraped a pit to keep that shit
where the town paid to contain it.
The others of us looked and looked. "City
folks like you don't get to see this often,"
one year-round resident accused me.
Some winter I'll bring him down to learn
to love a rat working a length of subway
track. "Nope," I replied. Just then the bear
decamped for the woods with a marl of grease
and slather in his mouth and on his snout,
picking up speed, not cute (nor had he been
cute before, slavering with greed, his weight
all sunk to his seated rump and his nose stuck
up to sift the rich and fetid air, shaped
like a huge, furry pear), but richly
fed on the slow-simmering dump, and gone
into the bug-thick woods and anecdote.

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