Coming to the Festival of Books: Matthew Zapruder


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Among the honors awarded to poet Matthew Zapruder is the 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship. Zapruder is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently ‘Come On All You Ghosts’; the co-founder of Verse press (now part of Wave Books); and was co-translator of the final work of Romanian poet Eugen Jebeleanu. His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Bomb and the Paris Review, among other places.

Zapruder will be at the Festival of Books on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on the panel, ‘The Poet’s Journey: Personal Reflection and Personal Revelations’ moderated by David St. John with Nick Flynn, Dana Goodyear and Yehoshua November (a finalist for the L.A. Times book prize in poetry). Zapruder answered Jacket Copy’s questions via email.


Jacket Copy: Your poems include references to pop culture, like Diet Coke, bicycles and White Castle as well as high culture, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Do you ever worry that people who get one won’t get the other?

Matthew Zapruder: No, not really. Although I do like the idea of someone who only reads Coleridge not knowing what a Diet Coke or bicycle is. ‘What is this two-wheeled contraption? And this delicious fizzy concoction that won’t stretch my waistcoat?’ I think a lot of things in poems seem obscure, when if they were in a different form of writing they wouldn’t. People would just look them up on Google and go on with their lives.

JC: Do you like reading your poems out loud?

MZ: Yes, although it often makes me feel nervous and self-conscious. I write my poems to communicate with other people, and it is a very powerful experience to actually stand in front of an audience -- or for that matter, sit with one person -- and be in the poem together. Though risky, because if the poem doesn’t cross over and make a connection everyone can feel kind of awful. The single biggest change in my own writing over the course of several books has been to be more consciously aware of the reader, in all kinds of ways which are interesting and productive and liberating to me. I think this has been good for my poems, and for my experience of reading them to people.

JC: What were some of your motivations behind co-founding Verse Press?

MZ: Simply put, my friend the poet and editor Brian Henry and I looked around in 1999 and realized there were so many great manuscripts just sitting around not being published, and that no one was going to do anything about it, so we had to. Verse Press, like so many publishing ventures, was born out of a palpable frustration that the work we knew with complete certainty was necessary was not available. And that desire, to publish work that is essential, has continued through Verse Press becoming Wave Books, into the present.


JC: Are you looking forward to anything in particular at the Festival of Books this year?

MZ: I have heard a lot about the Green Room. I also hope to see at least the back of Rainn Wilson’s head, though I would settle for a disquieting glimpse of Andrew Breitbart.

JC: Will you be doing anything in Los Angeles apart from the festival?

MZ: Not this time, though I’m back just a few days later, on Wednesday night the 11th, for a reading at The Hammer Museum for a PEN publication called The Rattling Wall, with a lot of other great writers.

Tickets to the L.A. Times Festival of Books panels are available now from Eventbrite.


The 2011 Guggenhiem Fellows

2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalists announced

All Festival of Books posts

-- Carolyn Kellogg