Expressing or Hiding: A Brief Interview with Sebastian Matthews

Poetry can inspire, it can make us think in ways we have never thought before, and it can allow us to understand a person without knowing him. In a recent interview, I asked poet Sebastian Matthews this question: is poetry a way to express yourself, or to hide yourself? Matthew answered that he played around with the words “hide” and “express,” then revealed to me that poets express ideas, conjure images, but not precisely feelings.

“ . . . Often in poems themselves, feeling is conveyed. Or, maybe accurately, feeling is shared, or offered up, or whispered into an ear,” Matthews said.

Poetry is meant for the reader, and as the reader we have our own opinions, rather just experiencing feelings to the idea that is being expressed.

“Poems are directed out more than in. They seep out toward and into the reader. If anyone is expressing feelings, it’s the reader in their reaction and engagement with the poem,” Matthews further explained.

As a poet, hiding yourself in a poem is not a bad thing. “Poets hide things in their poems all the time, as a code, as image, metaphor, innuendo, double entendre. It’s fun, it’s psychologically necessary. Kind of like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs,” he stated.

Matthews believes that magic isn’t put on display, like a mannequin wearing an outfit, just so we can walk pass and slightly glance at it— it teaches us about the universe and how it works.

In conclusion, “when a poet hides him or herself, it’s usually at the service of the poem. And don’t forget that the narrator or speaker of a poem is not the poet.”


Tall Brochure CardSebastian Matthews is the author of several poetry collections, of the memoir In My Father’s Footsteps, and most recently of The Life & Times of an American Crow. In the fall of 2017, Red Hen press will publish his next book, “a hybrid book of poems, prose poems and short prose pieces” titled A Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision.

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