Matthew Zapruder on the Scottish Poetry Library podcast

“I think people have this misconception about poets that we sit down and figure out everything we’re going to say before we say it and then, because we have this “Great Command Of Words,” we can force language into saying whatever it is we want to say … but that’s not how most poets work. They have an instinct for language, they study language, they live with it, they feel it, they are attentive to it, so that when something comes up that seems resonant or has potentiality, poets will be able to activate those words, and make things more resonant. That’s what I think it’s all about. Not getting some message across. I mean, what’s the message? It’s scary to be alive? We’re mortal? We live in vulnerable bodies? Death is terrifying? Love is good? Don’t be cruel? Don’t take other people stuff? I mean, we’re not moralists, we’re trying to work with our materials.”

Matthew Zapruder

Listen to the whole podcast here, in which Zapruder reads a few of his poems and discusses poetry, including his poem on


4 thoughts on “Matthew Zapruder on the Scottish Poetry Library podcast”

  1. Ha – I didn’t see you’d posted this. Well, I got a quote in there as well, even if I wasn’t first.

    I liked this quote, and its central idea, though I think he’s overstating it to make his point. Yes, we work with the material of language first, but that doesn’t mean we don’t/can’t fashion it to get some message across. Some do and some don’t, across all arts.

    Likewise, sometimes things feel resonant at least in part because they have moral weight, no?

  2. Oh, totally, even ‘potentiality’ suggest potentiality toward something that could easily have moral weight…I think it’s more to suggest that most don’t start out from that place. And it often results in poor poems when they do. I always think about what this children’s book writer/instructor said about how you just get deep enough into your character and their story / problem, the moral will be implicit, you don’t even really need to think much about it. Like, just figure out who is this frog that lost his hat.

  3. So then aren’t we moralists after all, at least in some secondary or tertiary way? “Backdoor moralists”, perhaps?

    Somewhere in Iowa Rick Santorum’s ears just perked up…

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