Swimming at Midnight: Selected Shorter Poems

John Matthias, Author, Robert Thomas Archambeau, Editor
John Matthias, Author, Robert Thomas Archambeau, Editor Swallow Press $28.95 (132p) ISBN 978-0-8040-0984-3
Paperback - 156 pages - 978-0-8040-0985-0
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American poet Matthias's forte is the long poem: ranging from 18 to 24 pages, these provide ample room for his experiments with language, that sometimes start off with quotes from obscure texts. A natural-born explorer, Matthias voyages mentally, emotionally and physically, either under his own guise or borrowing the masks of friends or figures, real or imagined, more familiar with the terrain he ranges. His historically-based works lack the clarity found in similarly inspired writings of Charles Reznikoff and Paul Metcalf, and he's at his best on contemporary journeys. The ``Stefan Batory'' sequence, a convoluted untangling of personal heritage, is particularly fascinating. The cumulative rewards of these lengthier meanderings are missing in the shorter works. This is a poet who, in one longer poem, begs the Muse to ``help me put on my disguise''; regardless of how comfortable Matthias might be with these quickly donned personae, readers need more time to adjust. Recent poems about Bosnia (a landscape he seems to have experienced first hand) are easy to relate to, but short historical pieces set in Britain are loaded with compressed arcana unlikely to fall within the frame of reference of American readers. In the short form, Matthias shines in autobiographical poems, such as those in the ``After Years Away'' sequence. Even in this 30-year retrospective, such poems are too few. Matthias notes in his Foreword to Swimming, that, together, these two volumes are intended to replace his ``new and selected poems'' in his 1984 collection, Northern Summer. (June)
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