Sebastian Matthews is the author of the poetry collection We Generous (Red Hen Press) and a memoir, In My Father’s Footsteps (W. W. Norton). He co-edited, with Stanley Plumly, Search Party: Collected Poems of William Matthews (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and New Hope for the Dead: Uncollected William Matthews. Matthews teaches at Warren Wilson College and serves on the faculty of the Queens College Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing program, as well as on the editorial board of Q Ave Press, makers of handmade poetry chapbooks. His work has appeared in journals such as the Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and Tin House.
Beyond Repair: Living in a Fractured State
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
After recovering from a head-on collision and its attendant trauma, the author struggles to reconnect to a world in the throes of a form of cultural PTSD.
In 2011, my family was in a major car accident. We were hit head-on by a man in the throes of a heart attack. It took three years to recover from our injuries, and a couple more to deal with the aftereffects of trauma. When I finally returned to the world—as father and husband, friend and brother, writer and citizen—it became clear that our society was in its own traumatized state—reeling from the string of police shootings of unarmed African Americans, stunned by yet one more mass shooting. The people around me were displaying all the signs of PTSD—jumpiness, irritability, numbness—and, concordantly, my interactions out in daily life were becoming more dysfunctional, at times downright hostile. Us against them. Red vs. blue. Black vs. white. Rich vs. poor. That we were living in a progressive town inside a conservative county in the Mountain South only made things more volatile. I decided that if we were all living in a fractured society no longer recognizable, then it was up to me to re-engage in it. I would enter into encounters with people as conscious as possible of the potential divides and misunderstandings between us. I started with my neighborhood and town, then moved out into the counties around us, then traveled further out into the country. My goal: to connect.
Beyond Repair: Encounters in a Fractured World is a portrait of community in traumatized times. Sebastian Matthews documents dislocation, both psychic and physical, in these tightly crafted nonfiction vignettes. Whether the speaker is on the sidelines at his child’s soccer game, seeking help from the credit card fraud hotline, or in the elevator with a confused Alzheimer’s sufferer, Matthews enacts the difficulty and necessity of compassion. With wryly insightful observations, Beyond Repair brings us closer with every sentence to the deep repairing we need.—Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Heating & Cooling
In Beyond Repair, poet and memoirist Sebastian Matthews brings an epic consciousness to bear on the grudges and griefs, the tribalism and follies, that warp our politics from the historical to the mundane. Maybe it was the near-death experience from a car accident combined with his abundance of integrity that makes Matthews keenly attuned to inequalities and his place within the machinery of American culture. Maybe he’s just a guy who’s had enough of the nonsense. In this collection of lyric micro-essays, Matthews shares his perspective of those interactions—the microaggressions that Claudia Rankine exposed in her groundbreaking book Citizen, and this necessary and healing work reveals that to “check your privilege” is, after all, to practice a simple set of values we teach our children all the time: be kind and respectful of one another, be thankful for your good fortune, stand up for fairness. Why should it be so controversial to ask adults to do the same?—Gregory Pardlo, author of Air Traffic
“Beautifully written and timely, Beyond Repair weaves together personal and national traumas in a way that resonated particularly with me as a writer in North Carolina wrestling with race in the Trump era.”—David Graham, The Atlantic
An intro from Sebastian Matthews
Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
In Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision Sebastian Matthews offers a glimpse into his painful yet transcendental journey of healing a broken body, mending a shattered soul, and the utter zeal of making a layup when you thought that would never again be possible. With honesty and wit, this poetic memoir demonstrates how, chipped piece after chipped piece, Matthews and his family put together their fractured lives after nearly losing them in a head-on collision.
“Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision offers the deeply moving poetic memoir of Sebastian Matthews’s life in the years after the car accident that devastated him and his wife and son. The poems, which often read like electric improvised prayer-songs, intimately evoke the terrors and wonders of catastrophic physical injury and of ‘life re-booted.’ They are disturbing, eerie poems that embody the paradoxes of being The Dead Man at the crossing. They are amazingly honest in their hopeful, mystical sense of fate. In this unforgettable book, the reader is present at the scene of the accident where the hovering spirit that has departed the body addresses the living person re-entering his brokenness and answering for his transcendent awareness.” — Kevin McIlvoy, author of The Complete History of New Mexico
“It cleaves the life. An auto accident. Moving it into before and after. Parts of this postcataclysm instruction manual read like a dream, as if what is happening is happening both to the self in toto–batted, fractured, spliced and reconstructed–as well as to another self that watches, cool and objective, determining the outcome. By reading Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision we learn how to go in and out of the body as necessary and, in order to take in the possibility of a larger life, how to wrest from breakage release from our thin views of who we are. Here is Matthews the husband, the father, the driver, the patient, the Virgo obsessively advising, the man looking back, the man looking forward.” — Vievee Francis, author of Forest Primeval, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
“Sebastian Matthews has incredible patience for the beginner, since he is one himself, as he confronts the severe agony of a terrible car accident. In short narratives, brief lyrics, prose poems, and mock astro-missives, Matthews reminds us how the brutal pain of collision might dramatically change us. ‘[W]hat we shared was the truth of impact / our bodies ringing like bells in a small town / on a Holy day . . .’ These poems detail both physical and spiritual misery, and though suffering can turn us into many things, Matthewsour banged up storyteller, singer, docentstrives to deliver himself back to a body of affection, intimacy, and kindness. Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision is a remarkable record of that difficult journey.” — Patrick Rosal
Miracle Day: Mid-Life Songs
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Miracle Day: Mid-Life Songs, Sebastian Matthews’ second book of poems, explores the main themes of midlife—sex and death, marriage and parenthood, work and play, friends and foes, travel and staying put. Moving back and forth between couplets and the single-stanza poem, Matthews writes about the world he is immersed in, whether listening in on an impromptu barbershop quartet with his son or driving through urban Philadelphia on a misguided whim. Matthews continues his interest in jazz and musicians but has broadened his palate to include ruminations on everything from the 1948 summer session at Black Mountain College to Jack Benny’s legendary corn-belt comedy routines.
New Hope for the Dead
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
New Hope the Dead: Uncollected Matthews is the last of poet William Matthews’ posthumous collections, following Search Party: Collected Poems (Houghton Mifflin) and The Poetry Blues: Essays & Interviews (University of Michigan Press), all edited by son Sebastian Matthews and close friend and fellow poet Stanley Plumly.
New Hope for the Dead features the best of Matthews’ remaining uncollected work, including over 30 poems spanning Matthews’ prolific but tragically cut-short career. But unlike the first two collections, New Hope for the Dead features Matthews’ unheralded talents as a short story writer, food writer and diarist as well as providing more cogent interviews, and witty and truculent essays. With subjects ranging from the Roman poet, Marshall, to Emerson’s life of leisure in the Adirondaks to Matthews’ old standbys—jazz, sport and the pleasure of friends—Mattthews proves to be an erudite, articulate and surprisingly versatile guide.
New Hope for the Dead features an array of favorite recipes, a series of candid photographs spanning Matthews’ career, letters from Matthews to his three closest literary friends, a bumpersticker recreated from an early small press collaboration and the final lines found on the poet’s desk the day of his death. This collection for all serious fans of poetry, literature, language, music and art. Just right for the reader of poets such as Tony Hoagland and Billy Collins as well as for the lover of literary biography and cultural criticism.
Publication Date: March 1, 2007
In his first collection of poetry, We Generous, Sebastian Matthews illustrates black culture and music through soulful verse and poignant emotion. With poems reflective of the smooth rhythms of jazz, Matthews captures the essence and beauty of love, desire, and daily life.