Ph.D., American University
B.A., M.A., The Johns Hopkins University
As the poet Frank Bidart has written, “We are creatures who need to make.” What happens to us, within us, and to the way we see the world, when we make and experience art has been my abiding interest as a writer, a teacher, and more recently as a painter.
When I was sixteen years old I had the sort of passionate encounter with a poem that can change your life. The poem was “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas, and it deeply, utterly changed my life. Its words, the poet’s reckless and sensitive voice, were a kind of sensuous music that I heard in my whole body and that revealed the world to me in a way I’d never experienced before.
Poetry suddenly felt essential to me, it gave me to myself. I try in my teaching of creative writing to kindle the mysterious artistic spirit whose presence I felt when I read that poem, and in my teaching of literature to help students discover how our encounters with that spirit and its presence in poems and stories can intensify and transform our lives.
I’m also a painter, and looking at paintings—in the same way that reading poems inspires a love for the life of words and of doing things with words—continually inspires my love of paint, of colors and marks, and the motions of the body that make them.
As a teacher I care most about the way we experience literature, about writing as something that happens. In writing, painting, and music, what excites me—an excitement I try to convey to others through my teaching—is improvisation, the creative power of not-knowing, the splendor of imperfection and the beauty of what’s accidental, ardor that trumps (without necessarily negating) technique, and above all, a passionate openness to the moment.
Works by Steve Matanle:
Patience (Pirate Island Press, 2008)
Nightbook (Passager Books, 2011)
Collaboration with the band Red Sammy on the album These Poems With Kerosene.