Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Matthew Zapruder. His latest poetry collection, Father’s Day, is available from Copper Canyon Press.


This is his second time on the program. He first appeared in Episode 477 on August 9, 2017.

Zapruder is a poet, translator, professor and editor. He earned a BA in Russian literature at Amherst College, an MA in Slavic languages and literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he studied with Dara Wier, James Tate, and Agha Shahid Ali.

He is the author most recently of Sun Bear, Copper Canyon, 2014, and Why Poetry, a book of prose about poetry, Ecco/Harper Collins, 2017. An Associate Professor in the MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California, he is also editor at large at Wave Books, and from 2016-7 held the annually rotating position of Editor of the Poetry Column for the New York Times Magazine. He lives in Oakland, California. He also plays lead guitar in the rock band The Figments, a Western Massachusetts based band led by songwriter Thane Thomsen.

Zapruder’s other collections of poetry include Come On All You Ghosts (2010), The Pajamaist (2006), and American Linden (2002). He collaborated with painter Chris Uphues on For You in Full Bloom (2009) and co-translated, with historian Radu Ioanid, Romanian poet Eugen Jebeleanu’s last collection, Secret Weapon: Selected Late Poems (Coffee House, 2008).


Why did you give your book such an uncool title?

Yeah, I agree. It felt like it was related to the central concerns of the book, both myself as a father, but also the general concept of fathering, of responsibility. There’s a poem in the book with that title, that ends with the lines:

the children sleeping
alone in some
detention center
don’t need
our brilliant sincerity
it’s not enough
to give some money
make some calls
they are not ours
but they are
we are the first
new fathers
ours failed
where we cannot
stop waiting
there are no others

I was thinking about our founding fathers, and how they let us down. And all those fathers running things now, so destructively. And about what it would mean to be a new kind of father: what sort of fathers we all (regardless of gender) need to be now, to all kids, each other, the earth, ourselves.

Plus the word father seems very ancient and powerful, but also in need of renewal.

When I was fifteen
I suddenly knew
I would never
understand geometry.
Who was my teacher?
That name is gone.
I only remember
the gray feeling
in a classroom
filled with vast
theoretical distances.
I can still see
odd shapes
drawn on the board,
and those inscrutable
formulas everyone
was busily into
their notebooks scribbling.

Matthew Zapruder is the guest. He is a poet, editor, translator, and the author of a new book called Why Poetry, available now from Ecco.

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Listening to Neil Young in California
is like throwing away the old pills

that used to cure something and turning
your face towards the day, i.e. the ocean

filling the window with grey boats
floating in totally bright present aloneness.

For several weeks on my lap top
I had a picture of the space shuttle docking.

Then I replaced it with the ravenous
wooly adelgid covering a blighted eastern hemlock.

One branch looks like a limb
destroyed by an improvised explosive device.

Friend whose father is dying,
let us exchange dreams.

I am strong enough for yours
and you can move

down the long boring beige literal corridor
and replace the batteries in the thermostat,

fingering a diamond hair clip.

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.