Well Versed

Geography and place are some of the biggest influences on Matthew Graham’s poetry. Now appointed by the Indiana Arts Commission as the Indiana State Poet Laureate, he is sharing the art form with the place he calls home. Starting his two-year term earlier this year on Jan. 1, Graham is working to bring poetry awareness and education throughout the state.

“Poetry is accessible,” he says. “It’s not something that is necessarily intellectual and highbrow. I want to bring that joy and love of the art form to all kinds of people, all ages, all around the state.”

Graham, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Southern Indiana, retired at the beginning of the year after building the university’s creative writing program. While the role of poet laureate will take him to new places in the state, Graham already has a background bringing writing resources to the area. For 22 years, he led the Ropewalk Writer’s Retreat in New Harmony, Indiana, with colleague Tom Wilhelmus.

Though Graham has had to be creative with his plans so far as poet laureate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he started a series of conversations, “Poetry in Our Time,” with Hoosier poets on the Indiana Humanities website (indianahumanities.org). Graham’s hope is to revive the popularity of poetry once again throughout the state.

“I’ve always been interested in language, and I think poetry reallypushes the boundary of language sometimes,” he says. “I like that a poem can many times put into words those feelings and emotions the rest of us don’t really have words for.”

Dick and Jane

Oh how I hated their precious pets and perfect parents.
Their goody-two-shoed lives balanced on the footbridge
Of white bread and moral smugness.
But they taught me to read, taught me to live.
And then they vanished from the public eye in 1965
Aged ten and eight. They’d be in their late fifties, early sixties by now
And I hope it was a rocky ride of rehab and therapy,
But it wasn’t, really. Jane’s first marriage was short and terrible
But her second was happy. She’s a retired nurse practitioner
With three loving grandchildren. Dick still works
As an insurance adjuster and is a closeted member of the school board.
Isn’t it funny how in some ways
We were never children
And in other ways
We always are?
But they taught me to read,
they taught me to see.

See the weary light
on the lawn of
late summer.
See the years rise like ash into a starless sky.
See Spot run.

By Matthew Graham, “The Geography of Home,” Galileo Press, 2019

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