In his tenth book of poems, his first since Selected Poems and Translations 1969 to 1991, William Matthews turns in a fresh direction. In Time & Money, this worldly and ironical poet moves toward an accommodation with life through a maze of losses and loves - music, wine, women, travel, sports, and country pleasures. He enters time as though it were liquid: "Thus water licks its steady way through stone." He writes of musicians who keep time faithfully: "They have to hit the note / and the emotion, both, with the one poor / arrow of the voice." And he approaches the realities of money: "Money's not an abstraction; it's math / with consequences, and if it's a kind / of poetry, it's another inexact way, / like time, to measure some sorrow we can't / name." This strong book contains the work of five years by one of the most admired poet-judges, poet-teachers, and poet-participators in this country. Slightly dejected, witty, cynical, yet tolerant, even affectionate, Matthews chooses to tel
Late in his life, William Matthews left us with Time and Money, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. It is a meditation on loss and grace that some of us will be thinking about for a long time. "Bob Marley's Hair," which discusses the famed musician's dreadlocks falling out during chemotherapy, is as poignant as, well, "Babe Ruth at the End," the story of Ruth on his deathbed. The real gem, though, is "Dead Languages," a study in how, to use Frost's expression, "way leads on to way." Matthews tosses out fascinating examples of how words have evolved, how "Live English lugs a dead language inside." The way language mutates its way through the world, unconscious of its own changes, Matthews writes, isn't far from our own dimly understood lives: "We did what we did, we're / not proud nor ashamed, we led our lives / or they led us, and how would we know which?"