by Grace Hatton, Reverb Editor
A mix of Wilson students and Wilson Creative Writing faculty were sitting in Sage Café on Sept. 6 to listen to two poets, Vievee Francis and Wilson faculty member Sebastian Matthews. The reading was celebrating Matthews recently published book of poems called Miracle Day: Mid-Life Songs.
Silence filled Sage as Vievee Francis stepped to the solitary microphone. Francis is the partner of this year’s Beebe Fellow and she is the winner of the 2010 Cave Canem prize, an award that celebrates and publishes works of lasting cultural value and literary excellence. Francis spoke of her journey from her native Texas to Detroit to Wilson. With her steady and moving poetry she captivated the room. However, it was her poem that intertwined the life of James Brown and the story of her abusive uncle that brought a lump to the throats of everyone sitting in the quiet café.
After her reading, Sebastian Matthews stepped to the microphone. He wore a slouchy blue shirt and rumpled jeans, the outfit fitting his laid back attitude. A basketball with scribbled words on it rested on a stool next to his side. Later Matthews explained how the basketball was found in the river during a Wilson service day he participated in and after the service day he proceeded to write a poem on the basketball.
In his new book Miracle Day, Matthews has written poems regarding the life threatening accident he was in last year. Last August, Matthews and his family were involved in a head-on collision when the other driver had a heart attack and crashed into Matthews’s car. After a year Matthews, his wife and son are all healthy. As Matthews talked about his accident his voice was labored but steady. Yet as he read his poem ‘To the One that Lost His Father’ his voice grew thick as he held back tears. Upon reading the line ‘How dare you hurt my family’ his voice audibly broke, a gasp followed by the sting of tears.
The room watched as Matthews expressed raw and undeniable pain at the thought of losing his family. Matthews turned from the crowd and regained his composure. He apologized for the display of emotion, but no one in the crowd needed an apology. He had exposed a wound that somehow made his work all the more powerful.
Silence clung to the air once more as he took a moment to breathe, but this was a different silence. Not a silence of convenience, not a required silence but a silence of respect. After a few minutes Matthews was able to finish reading his poems and as soon as his reading came to a close sincere claps filled the small yet suddenly lively café.
Matthews book Miracle Day is published by Red Hen Press and is available through popular outlets such as Barnes & Nobles and Amazon.