Poets in Profile: Matt Rader

Share |
Matt Rader (photo credit: Zach Whyte)

Open Book is celebrating National Poetry Month with daily profiles of today's "unacknowledged legislators of the world." Find out what inspires, confounds and delights the poets behind this spring's new releases by following our series.

Published only weeks ago, Matt Rader's A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno (House of Anansi Press) has already generated much-deserved enthusiasm and praise. Covering a wide range of subjects — wildflowers and weeds, newspaper archives and illness, hostels and hostiles, parenting and war — yet tied together by a strong lyric voice that speaks with both bravery and humility, these poems take us both home and away, and leave us wondering which is which. As Elizabeth Bachinsky has noted, "no one writes about the history of our natural world with the grace, compassion and rage of Matt Rader."

Matt Rader will launch A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno in Toronto at the Anansi Poetry Bash on Thursday, April 28th. Visit our Events page for more details.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Matt Rader:

This was the last question I answered, actually. I have no idea if this contributed to my publishing poems (at some point just about everything can be described as contributing to a current condition), but when I was five years old, Dennis Lee came to the town next to where I lived on the east coast of northern Vancouver Island. He did an event at a bookstore called Laughing Oyster (which is now a place called Happy's Sporting Goods). What I remember is this: it was dark in the bookstore and I was sitting on the wooden floor with a number of other children and a man with a big beard picked me out of the crowd. He bounced me on his knee and recited one of his rhymes and I ran out of the store crying.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

MR:

The first poem that made me weep on contact was “As I Walked Out One Evening” by W. H. Auden. Reading it for the first time in my early 20s, I recovered a memory of my grandmother reciting Auden when I was a small child: “O stand, stand at the window / As the tears scald and start; You shall love your crooked neighbour / With your crooked heart.” But it is more than chronology and tears and a flush of memory that makes me think of this as the “first” poem. The poem possess a moral and aesthetic clarity that terrifies me in its simplicity and truth. For me, the poem is utterly undeniable, a kind of first principle of my own imagination, and this both threatens and ratifies, like only the mightiest insights can, my sense of self.

OB:

What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?

MR:

Ash Wednesday” by T. S. Eliot. Like the Auden poem, the rhythms and morality of Eliot's poem feel entirely native to my deepest self. But whereas Auden's poem makes complete sense to me compositionally, Eliot's poem resists my investigations into its compositional strategy. I can imagine writing Auden's poem but I can't imagine writing Eliot's poem. And yet, as I say, “Ash Wednesday” feels as though it were scripted right out of my essential imagination. So my supposition is this: if I had written this poem I would have united parts of myself that are currently cognitively closed to each other. Another terrifying and strangely ratifying thought.

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

MR:

Compost.

OB:

What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?

MR:

Stick it on an ice floe. Strap it to a rocket. Throw it in the compost.

OB:

What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?

MR:

Collected Poems of Michael Longley. A critic once described Longley as “an Odysseus for whom every landfall is a homecoming.” Longley is an adventurer who is deeply engaged in the “custom, customs and manners” of poetic tradition.

OB:

What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?

MR:

Reading this as a question about vocation, the best thing about being a poet is the public permission (through grants, publications, readings, etc) to write more poems. The worst thing is the double-bind of public attention. Poems both thrive and wither from public attention. And they thrive and wither from lack of public attention. As a poet this can be an excruciating condition.

Matt Rader is the critically acclaimed author of two previous collections of poetry: Living Things and Miraculous Hours (Nightwood Editions), which was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and longlisted for the ReLit Award. His poems, stories and non-fiction have appeared in journals and anthologies across North America, Australia and Europe and have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Journey Prize, the National Magazine Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. He lives in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. For more information please visit him at his website.

Read Writer-in-Residence Angela Hibb's conversation with Matt Rader here.

For more information about A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno please visit the House of Anansi Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

University of Guelph Creative Writing

Humber Scapa

Kingston Writer's Festival

Humber Literary Review

Open Book App Ad