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The Shield interviewed Professor of English Matthew Graham who will present work from his new poetry collection, “The Geography of Home,” at a poetry reading sponsored by the Southern Indiana Reading Series at 4:30 p.m. April 11 in the Griffin Center.
The Shield: When did you start writing?
Matthew Graham: In high school, I fooled with poetry. It wasn’t until college that I got more serious about it.
The Shield: What was it about writing that interested you?
Graham: I think I was influenced by song lyrics as a kid. I just wanted to duplicate the kind of power I felt that they had, and when I started really realizing what real poetry was, I became even more interested in it and all the possibilities of language.
The Shield: When did you start writing poetry?
Graham: I didn’t know what I was doing for a long time. It took me a long time to learn how to write poetry. In college, I decided to get a little bit more serious about it. I applied to a graduate program and then really studied it and decided it was important to me.
The Shield: Why was it important to you?
Graham: I think I felt like there were things I needed or wanted to say and poetry seemed to be the best way to do that. I like how it condensed language. It got a lot done in a short amount of time. I like that it put into words emotions and feelings and experiences that we all have, but we don’t necessarily have the words for. Poetry was a way of putting into words experiences and feelings.
The Shield: Do you have any influences?
Graham: In college, I discovered two writers, James Wright and Philip Levine. They were contemporary poets who wrote about working-class people and experiences and situations I was familiar with and didn’t realize you could write poetry about.
The Shield: What do you tend to write about with your poetry?
Graham: Certainly, I write about my life and where I see my place in the world. I write a lot about contemporary issues and things and people. I’m interested in history a lot and where we stand as human beings right now.
The Shield: Why do these things interest you?
Graham: People interest me. The times we live in interests me. The world interests me.
The Shield: When did you start writing poems for “The Geography of Home?”
Graham: Ten years ago. It takes me a long time to write because I have to grade all these student papers.
The Shield: What has it been like balancing your career as a writer and a professor?
Graham: It’s always been a struggle. I save my summers for my own writing because I can’t do much writing during the school year, which is fine, it’s a good gig.
The Shield: What is the theme of “The Geography of Home?”
Graham: All the various aspects what we consider to be home.
The Shield: What does home mean to you?
Graham: Home is the past. Home is present. Home is travel. Home is books and all the places I’ve felt comfortable.
The Shield: What made you decided to write about that subject?
Graham: It’s just something I was thinking about over the years. Where have I been? Where am I going? Where do I feel comfortable?
The Shield: Are there any pieces form “Geography of Home” that really stick out to you?
Graham: There are a couple of longer poems in the middle of the book that I’m proud of because they’re less about me and they’re more about some larger literary and historical issues. I channeled some writers that I’ve admired, Walt Whitman, for example, and James Joyce and (W. B. Yeats) and Willa Cather.
The Shield: How do you think you have developed as a writer?
Graham: I hope I’ve become a better writer over the years, a smarter writer. I hope I become more sensitive, more understanding, all the things you hope to become as a person. As you get older, you hope to develop those positive things, and I hope that comes through in the writing as well.
The Shield: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into poetry?
Graham: Take some creative writing classes, that’s a good way to start. Get a sense of what’s being written right now, what contemporary writing is all about. The main advice is just to read everything. Just read.
The Shield: What will students get out of the reading?
Graham: When I go to a good reading, it makes me want to go home and write. And I hope that my reading will inspire people to want to write and read.