A Wonderfully Private and Religious Act:
Matthew Zapruder in Conversation with Gene Myers
Gene Myers: Can you define the moment when you first realized you wanted to be a poet?
Matthew Zapruder: I grew up in a neighborhood outside of Washington, D.C., a place as you would expect saturated by politics, suffused with the idea that those mechanisms of human relations are the most important things to know about, and to be involved in. I was a very obedient child, typical older son. I wanted to please my parents, and by extension the social circle around them. So, I diligently applied myself to the sciences of history, politics, languages, even though I found most of those things deathly boring. I didn't realize I wasn't supposed to be bored. So, I just plugged away, trying to do the right thing, get into a good college, all that. Inside though I was ready to snap-a real harmless menace to anyone but myself. After my senior year in high school, the summer before I went away to college, I fell in love in a rather conventionally tragic situation, and was driven absolutely beyond the breaking point. The only thing that made me feel better-well not better, but let's say anything-was writing a very bad love poem. I had never written a poem before, and didn't write another for many years, until I was looking at a photograph I had taken of an abandoned hotel in Leningrad, where I had spent a summer living. I sat in front of my computer, wrote a poem, sent it to a contest and won. It was many years before I wrote another, and many more before I was published again. Which was good, because I didn't really start writing anything worth reading until well into my time at the M.F.A. program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where I was truly fortunate to study deeply with James Tate and Dara Wier, two poets for whom I have the highest respect. But it was not until they taught me by example and through conversation what it means to live as a poet, to be immersed in poetry, devoted to it for its own sake, and not to doubt it or oneself any more than is absolutely necessary, that I actually knew enough about what it meant to be a poet to realize that I wanted to be one. So, fairly recently.
"...the high wire language act which is probably the only real justification for such an absurd act as writing poetry..."