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Poets Online Archive
Job Interview

April 2005

In William Matthews' poem,  "Job Interview", he writes about a ritual that almost all of us have gone through - possibly many times. What might be poetic about the question and answer and speaking of "fluent Fog" that constitutes an interview?

Matthews thinks of literature. Quite natural for a professor of English being interviewed by "committee" to slip off to think about Byron, Petrach and sonnets.
I suppose you may have your own job interview tale to tell. No? Perhaps, like me, you are taken with his opening line's question: "Where do you see yourself five years from now?"  This interview (and job review) standard question is generally not asked very seriously. A way of feeling out the candidate. Who answers, "Not here" but someone in a poem? But it is perhaps the key question for anyone sitting in the hot seat.

So tell us a tale. Interview someone, or yourself. Maybe answer the key question.


INTERVIEW

What does poetry mean to you?
the editor asks by e-mail.
No smiley face to wink the question.

I guess he expects something
in good straightforward English
that fits on a 2-column page.

I'll tell him poetry means
the blink that blinds intention.
The first section of a fugue

without music. The rose
whose fragrance still eludes,
alludes, elides

into the next phrase, a darker
language whose thunder-
belly rumblings

grumble the question and
smudge the ink of his Review,
long after the brilliant

zigzag answer
I might wish to give.

Taylor Graham


THE FURTHER ADVICE OF MUSIC

My advice given
to the somber smiling newlyweds-
My beautiful daughter of scarlet wavy locks and her young balding blond husband-
holding hands

"Sing a song to each other each morning
of each your days

'Every day with Jesus
is sweeter than the day before
Every day with Jesus
I love him more and more'

Then discover to each other
whether it is a personal truth you are singing- or just a small and pretty song

If you'll but sing
It will work its magic
So sing and sing and sing."

James Beard


THIS JOB

I got this job through a temp agency
The money wasn't good enough for me
But I gotta eat
I wake up just to get up and work
Even if it's just on my own nerves
I sit at that computer
Inputting data
Making spreadsheets and sipping coffee
I can hear the interviewer saying
Over and over again playing in my head

Would you like a challenging position?
I don't think she would have liked my answer
Or maybe she would have
But I took the job
Knowing that
It wasn't very far from home
And soon hopefully
I would at least stop robbing Peter to pay Paul
For my bills

I took the basic skills test and passed
As if I didn't know that I would
Or could
Get the position
Through a temp agency
Where the money is still not good enough for me

But I gotta eat, wake up
Work
Input data
Make spreadsheets
Yes! I want a challenging position
I reply
And I am still here.

Wanda Jefferson


THE INTERVIEW

I explain
that I live for the sound of rain
on the window,
for a walk in the spring,
for Mozart's "Figaro" singing
in the living room,
for--in the end--the Silence
beyond daily noise.
I believe
that one person's story beats
a statistic, a proposal,
a five-year plan.
I believe
that Mozart knew more
than I know, more than They know;
he transformed silence into song.

They frown. One drums his fingers
on the table.
I should answer Their questions.

Yes, I know the value of money
and its cost; yes, risk and uncertainty
walk hand in hand.
In five years?
I predict creation, expanding the story.
I will listen, still.
Yes, I plan to embrace risk,
adventures, chance,
different from what They ask.
They frown.
We have reached the Finale
--the End. No encore.

Broeck Wahl


RISKY BUSINESS

There once was a sailor man
Introduced to me by a friend.
Tell me your history I asked,
Who you've known and where you've been.
Around the world more than once he claimed
Chomping on his meerschaum pipe.
But the ocean is a hard life and
I've had more than my share.
I have the urge to settle down,
Drive a car and plant a garden.
I need a driver I explained and
Gardening is best done by two for company.
If you'll be an intern for three months,
With the possibility of a permanent position,
The job is yours.

Ellen Kaplan

 

HOME

William Matthews, prolific poet, editor and lecturer, was professor of English at The City College for 14 years and also served as director of the creative writing program. He published his first book of poetry in 1970. Nine others followed during his lifetime, including Time & Money, which received the 1996 National Book Critics Circle award for poetry. He won the Modern Poetry Association's 1997 Ruth Lilly Award. He was a former chairman of the literature panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and a former president of the Poetry Society of America . William Matthews died on November 12, 1997, the day after his fifty-fifth birthday. After All was published posthumously.

From Publishers Weekly
What sets Matthews apart from other pleasant, autobiographically inclined poets is that he doesn't emote by rote, but feels sharply and smartly, transforming his sometimes trite scenarios into plain, careful insights. In this last volume, prepared before his death last year at the age of 55, Matthews gathers the stuff of life?car alarms and collegiate days, hospital misery and divorce. His laconic humor is ever at the ready: At a job interview, the poet dodges questions by speaking "fluent Fog." In Scotland, he wonders about the "astonishing sheep with canoe-shaped ears," and is pleased to learn from a shepherd that they are particularly stupid. Elsewhere, he recalls bringing "back a tall bubbin for the nice lady," who turns out to be "Martha Mitchell (wife of John/ Mitchell, soon to be Nixon's attorney general)." He considers such meetings proof that we are "by being born, a hostage/ to history" and deadpans, "Yes, there's cure for youth, but it's fatal." The very best lines combine Matthews's affability with trenchant turns on himself or his beloved's: "I like divorce. I love to compose/ letters of resignation" or "I saw her fierce privacy,/ like a gnarled luxuriant tree all hung/ with disappointments." The all too human singularity of these poems only underlines Matthews irreplacability. William Matthews had completed AFTER ALL shortly before his death, just after his fifty-fifth birthday, in November 1997. In many poems in this collection, Matthews seems to be looking his last on all things appealing: music, food and wine, and love among them. He also evokes the death of his favorite jazz musician, Charles Mingus, speaks of cats, dogs, history--and especially, with his characteristic relaxed wit, of language and its quiddities.

 

 

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