What is something you could tell people about your poetry that would be helpful for them as they read it?

It’s very hard to say anything “about” poetry. One hopes in writing it that one has said what needs to be said, as fully as one can, in a way that is both available to a reader, but also true to experience.  Paul Valery once said something like, the poem is a machine for creating in the reader the poetic experience. In other words, you go to poetry and read it in order to feel poetry in you. Which is a very rare event in this world. I hope that my poems are themselves poetic experiences for the people who read them. And I don’t really know what else to say.


If you could hand someone one poem, which one would it be?

It really depends on the situation, but all things being equal, I would probably give them “Ode to Joy” by Frank O’Hara, which has the best first line I have ever read: “We shall have everything we want and there’ll be no more dying”

There is audio of him reading it here.


Who did that cover of your book?

Martina Hoffman, an amazing German artist, who also did an illustrated version of the title poem of my second book, “The Pajamaist,” aka “Der Pyjamaist.” You can see the graphic novel , and other examples of her work, here.


What are the best, and worst, things about being a poet?

The best thing is that feeling when I am pushing language around, moving words and sentences away and towards each other, and then suddenly I feel a surge of electricity, and I know I am in the presence of some kind of new but also ancient meaning that I must pursue. Got my headlamp on, and ready to do some spelunking.

The worst thing about being a poet is the feeling one must constantly explain why poetry is important. In the course of trying, no matter how careful I try to be, I end up feeling as if I am betraying poetry, myself, and my friends. Clearly there is something about the question itself that is very corrosive. I often end up feeling as if everything else should have to explain itself, and why it is important, to poetry, in the hopes of being forgiven.

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MATTHEW ZAPRUDER is the author of five collections of poetry, including Come On All You Ghosts, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and Father’s Day (Copper Canyon, 2019), as well as Why Poetry, a book of prose. He is editor at large at Wave Books, and was the founding Director of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series. From 2016-7 he held the annually rotating position of Editor of the Poetry Column for the New York Times Magazine. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is an Associate Professor at Saint Mary’s College of California.

One response to “Matthew Zapruder: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. The worst thing about being a poet is the feeling one must constantly explain why poetry is important. In the course of trying, no matter how careful I try to be, I end up feeling as if I am betraying poetry, myself, and my friends. Clearly there is something about the question itself that is very corrosive. I often end up feeling as if everything else should have to explain itself, and why it is important, to poetry, in the hopes of being forgiven.

    yes. thank you for this.

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