MFA Professor Matthew Zapruder Examines Fatherhood Through the Lens of Poetry

Professor Matthew ZapruderAssociate Professor of English and the MFA Program Matthew Zapruder’s fifth collection of poetry, Father’s Day (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), offers up a lyrical host of thoughts, quandaries, and anxieties faced by poetical fathers—and the rest of us—in today’s unsettling times. The titular poem, Father’s Day, speaks to a new breadth of concerns for fathers in a world where caged children haunt our daydreams.

“That was at the fulcrum of the book: thinking about these children in detention centers and having that be in the background to the writing of a lot of the book, even though that’s not explicit in very many poems,” said Zapruder. “I think that’s the background subject of the book. Especially having a young child, imagining what it would be like to go through some of these things people are going through with their kids. I can’t even begin to understand what that would feel like. It’s traumatic enough for me to drop my kid off at preschool,” he added only somewhat jokingly.

“Maybe that’s why [the writing] was so natural. It ties together the personal and the larger social forces going on. These giant forces of cultural change and also of reaction, and how are we going to move forward, dot the next stage of our culture,” Zapruder noted.

It’s not as if Zapruder sat down specifically to write about fatherhood, but the topic came easily. “I just write from whatever concerns and experiences and phenomenon that I’m trying to make sense of in myself and in the world, and the themes and overarching concerns of the book emerge from a long process of writing,” Zapruder said.

“It’s cliché to say that [fatherhood is] the greatest experience and challenge you can have, and my son and my father—those things are on my mind all the time and intertwined with my creative life. To me, being a father and being a person are indistinguishable at this point.”

Certainly, not every poem in the collection is deadly serious. Zapruder’s Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting and The Poetry Reading—in which the author imagines giving a poetry reading in Hell—are just two examples of how he zings us with humor amidst other poems that evoke a sharp sadness. The collection follows Zapruder’s nonfiction Why Poetry (Ecco Press, 2017) and last poetry collection, Sun Bear (Copper Canyon Press, 2014).

“For me, making poems starts from a sound or a phrase, or an idea or an image that interests me, then I try to investigate it,” Zapruder said. “Through writing more and writing around it, I see why it feels important to me. As I start asking those questions of myself and the poem, things start to emerge and happen. Sometimes writing a poem, you do that and nothing happens, and then other times, it starts to reveal deeper significance. That’s how I work and also why I work.”

Zapruder’s poems help to clarify our sense of utter confusion these days. But does such a crazy sociopolitical dynamic make writing poetry easier or harder? “I think it’s just different: I don’t know if it’s harder in a way. It’s easier because it’s such a relief to write because it just creates space for this type of thinking I don’t get to do at any other time. The busier I am and the more chaotic and traumatic the world is, the more I appreciate that other time writing.

“I do think that letting the world into the poems more and more can create problems, but it can also create a lot of opportunities. At this stage in my writing life, I’m able to take advantage of those opportunities and not let the poems get overwhelmed by current events or things going on in my own life. I can manage that. Whereas earlier in my writing life, I might not have been able to do that.”

Zapruder has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a William Carlos Williams Award, and a May Sarton Award from the Academy of American Arts and Sciences. His poetry has been adapted and performed at Carnegie Hall by Composer Gabriel Kahane and Brooklyn Rider, and was the libretto for Vespers for a New Dark Age, a piece by composer Missy Mazzoli. In 2000, he cofounded Verse Press and is now editor at large at Wave Books. From 2016–17 he held the annually rotating position of Editor of the Poetry Column for the New York Times Magazine

Zapruder will read with Ada Limón in the Creative Writing Reading Series on Wednesday, Sept. 11, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at De La Salle Hall’s Hagerty Lounge.