Interview With Poet Clay Matthews

By Caleb Kiley

Clay Matthews

I began reading Clay Matthews’ poetry for a TED talk I was giving in class, but found myself searching for his poetry long after the assignment was over. Matthews’ poems inquire its readers, and as I read his poems I felt a sense of restlessness within myself; it left me longing for answers.

Matthews’ poetry asks you to stop and take in the world around you, because that is what he is doing. Matthews takes the time to observe his surroundings to take in the smell of freshly cut grass and stale gasoline. Matthew’s style is unique and ranges from poems that go on for pages to tightly buttoned up sonnets with calculated rhyme and meter. Most of all, his poetry relies on content—the simple yet deep musings of a man who is always trying to find a sense of himself.

In order to give the TED talk I felt like I needed more information, so I rolled the dice and shot out an email. Matthews graciously granted me an interview. Among the questions, I asked him what his favorite drink was, with the promise that I would buy him a round if I ever got the chance. Clay said “Good Kentucky Bourbon, Straight.”

Who were the biggest influences on your writing career?

My teachers, for sure. My mother. Larry Levis. Walt Whitman. Emily Dickinson. Sylvia Plath. Bob Dylan. This list could go on forever. I owe a great deal of debt to the world.

Did the culture you grew up in impact your writing?

Absolutely–lots of story tellers in my family, the Mississippi River was always doing its thing about fifteen minutes away, the land stretched out flat and long into row crops of corn, cotton, beans, and rice. We had some of the world’s greatest sunsets.

What do you enjoy writing about most?

Nothing in particular, really. The passing of days. The unknown we all face. The little things that speckle the world outside my windows.

When was the first time you were published? How did it feel to get published?

It was during my senior year of college, and it felt really spectacular, like I was part of a community.

 Who would you say are the contemporary poets of today, and who is your favorite?

There are so many contemporary poets working today, more poets than ever, probably. It’s a wonderful thing, though it makes it difficult to keep track of all of them. I don’t generally have “favorites,” but I love to see poems living. We’re hosting a reading at the college I teach at tomorrow featuring Tim Earley and Abraham Smith. Next week, I’m headed over to the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Lots of good stuff going on with poetry in the world.

Do you have any advice that I could pass on to the other aspiring poets/writers in my class?

Read everything you can find. Then read some more. Check out for contemporary stuff. Pay attention to the world. Deliberately. Take your time, and realize that writing is at once fun and work. Immerse yourself in the writing community and culture. Give back. Listen. Etc.

Is there anything about you or your poetry that you would want me to include in the TED talk?

Send my hello’s to everyone, and my Hooray Poetry! chants and etc. Tell them I hope they all have wonderful days.

Check Out Some of Matthews’ Poetry and Find Out How to Purchase His Books:


Clay Matthews was born in Sikeston, Missouri in 1979. He is a professor of literature and poetry at Tusculum College.

Pretty Rooster


– Caleb Kiley is an English Major at San Diego State University and an aspiring writer.

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