b. 1978


Matt Rader grew up in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. He studied poetry at the University of Victoria with Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, and Derk Wynand, and at the University of Oregon with Garrett Hongo, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, and Geri Doran. His poems, stories, and nonfiction have appeared in publications around the world. The author of four volumes of poetry, his most recent collection is Desecrations (McClelland & Stewart 2016). He lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, with his two daughters, where he teaches Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. 


Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?

I’m tempted to say the poem that sticks with me the most from those years is “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell just for the opening line: “Had we but world enough and time.” And because then I could mention Archibald MacLeish’s world-tour itinerary masterpiece,“You, Andrew Marvell.” That poem has always seemed to me a direct response to just Marvell’s opening line about the world and time. MacLeish travels the whole globe in 36 lines, chasing “the always coming on / The always rising of the night.” But it’s not really the night he’s recording, but the feeling of night: “To feel how swift how secretly / The shadow of the night comes on.” But as tempted as I am, the truth is the lines that come most quickly to mind are the opening couplet from Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” — “Come live with me and be my love / And we will all the pleasures prove.” What sticks is the rhyme, how the words “love” and “prove” don’t sound, to my contemporary ear, like they match. But I know they do. And for more than twenty-years that match or mismatch has been rattling around in my brain, along with Blake’s “What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” But Blake’s rhyme works differently, in part because of the meter, and in part because the rhyme always felt to me like meta-commentary on perfection, or the idea of divine perfection. Marlowe, being Marlowe, is cheekier. But not as cheeky as Sir Walter Raleigh who first gave me the idea that we could write back to these poems (like MacLeish did) when he sees Marlowe and raises him: “If all the world and love were young, / And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue, / These pretty pleasures might me move / To live with thee and be thy love.” Which reminds me of a Joseph Millar poem about a stove...

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?

The first poems I remember writing were with my mum in about grade 4. I wrote lots of poems through high school. But I didn’t get very serious about it until after I graduated university. I was not a good student of poetry in university. Lorna Crozier didn’t know what to do with me. To be honest, I’ve only started calling myself a poet in recent years, in part because my children call me a poet, and even if I couldn’t bear the burden of thinking of myself as a poet—it is a calling of deep significance to me—I could try to bear it for my children who are, as children often are, in much closer contact with what really matters.

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?

I don’t know if poet’s have a job. Poets have work. And work, as one of my teachers, Joe Millar would say, is holy. Maybe I could say, a poet’s job is to go to work. My work as a poet is indistinguishable, for me, from my work as a father, a son, a brother, a friend, a teacher, a lover, a citizen, a creature of the world. This may sound like an evasive or vague, or perhaps, grandiose answer, but I don’t intend it that way.... Or I do, and for this reason: my world is, and has always been, characterized by a demand to reduce, to compartmentalize, to economize, to draw boundaries, to show results. I hear that demand in the word “job.” Maybe what I want to do is follow my teacher and say, What do you think a bus driver’s “poem” is?

If you have a poem in our anthology what inspired you to write it?

One summer solstice, I drove down from my little mountain village on Vancouver Island where I was living at the time, to a beach on the Salish Sea with two friends I don’t talk with much anymore. We were each dealing with different kinds of endings: marriages, friendships, lifespans. I tried to write down what I remembered seeing and thinking sitting on the beach looking across the water at the coast mountains. It was evening. The clouds were so high they were more like the idea of clouds. The title [“Unspeakable Acts in Cars”] is a bit cheeky, a bit wry. I liked the thimblerig drama between the title and the poem: it seems like the poem might be about one thing, but the poem doesn’t turn out to be about that thing, but then later when you go back to the title, maybe there’s something going on that the poem never entirely names but is in there nonetheless, like the ball you try to follow as the trickster moves the cups. At the time, my friends and I were going through somethings that were both private and full of what felt like profound drama, but that I knew, even then, was no reason not to praise.

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?

The Marlowe and Raleigh poems I mentioned above are in the anthology, and though I have parts of each off by heart, I could be tempted to commit the rest. The Marvell poem about the coy mistress is also in the anthology, though, despite the first line, it’s not my favourite Marvell poem. The MacLeish poem isn’t in the anthology, though I wish it were. Neither is T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday,” the first section of which means something to me... I’d choose, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W. H. Auden, even though it is not in the Poetry In Voice anthology. It’s in mine. Forgive me, poetry obeys no masters: “O stand, stand at the window / As the tears scald and start / You shall love your crooked neighbour / With your crooked heart.” There’s a poem by Sharon Thesen in the PIV anthology that carries a wallop.

Start here: