February 20 , 2010

After All

Last Poems


This is the touchingly entitled collection of poems William Matthews had completed shortly before dying, just after his fifty-fifth birthday in November 1997. Is death ever entirely unexpected? Not, perhaps, by a collector of experience, a gourmet of language, who can refer to "death flickering in you like a pilot light." In AFTER ALL, Matthews seems to be looking his last on all things lovely: music, food and wine, love. In the stunning central poem, "Dire Cure," which forms a kind of spine to the book, he describes the remarkable implications of the "heroic measures" that saved the life and restored the health of his wife from "a children's cancer (doesn't that possessive break your heart?)." He evokes the death of his favorite jazz musician, Charles Mingus. He speaks of cats, dogs, pigs, sheep, of the past, of history, of joys proposed, but especially, with his characteristic relaxed wit, of language and its quiddities: "My love says I think too damn much and maybe she's right." After All is the last word from one of the most pensive and delicious of all our poets.

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