Story of a Poem
“Anyone who lives on earth must never be considered an outsider anywhere. Anyone who lives in the world belongs to the world.”
Matthew Zapruder had an idea: to write a poem as slowly and intentionally as possible, to preserve its drafts, and record the painstaking, elusively transcendent stuff of its construction. It would be the capstone to a new collection of poetry, and a means to process modern American life in a time of Covid, mega fires, and sobriety. What Zapruder didn’t anticipate was that this literary project would trigger a deeply personal aspect as well: a way to resolve the unexplored pain and unexpected joys he was confronting in the wake of his son’s diagnosis with autism. The result is a remarkable piece of writing, one that explores not just what it means to be a poet, but also what it means to be alive during the Anthropocene—to be on this planet—during this extraordinary time.
By comparing the writing of a poem with his own tangled evolution as a son, husband, and father, Zapruder unfolds moments of his own life in the reflection of an increasingly uncanny world. With a wide range of reference points—from Celan, Li Bai, and Frank O’Hara to Whitman, Merwin, and Rupi Kaur—we join Zapruder on a poet’s journey that, in some alchemy of literature, becomes a journey of our own. Ultimately, the poet asks us to join with him in the search for a crucial answer. In his words: “What world can we imagine, and then make, where we all can live?”
With Story of a Poem celebrated poet Matthew Zapruder offers a personal, deeply unguarded examination of a poet’s eternal struggle to transform a moment of feeling into verse, as well as a subtle and enthralling roadmap to the practice of poetry and finding its threads in everyday life.
Praise for Story of a Poem
"How fortunate, reader, that this book has found you. It found me too, and I spent days captivated by its pages, within which a whole life, and a whole poem, were slowly unfolding before me. Beating on every page is the heart of a father and the heart of a poet. Written with a bright, nimble clarity that lets deep complexities shine, this book is a glimmering candle in darkness."
—Doireann Ní Ghríofa, author of A GHOST IN THE THROAT
"Matthew Zapruder’s STORY OF A POEM is the luminous, lyrical meditation on wringing beauty from suffering and air, threaded with a singular, moving story about parenting an atypical child. I read it in a single gulp, and you will too."
—Mary Karr, author of THE LIARS' CLUB and CHERRY
"Whether you parent a neurodivergent child or have known the privilege and pain of loving an outsider, you’ll find commonality and comfort on the pages of this beautiful book. Zapruder illuminates the experience of parenting to a level I can only equate with heroism, arguably for the sheer lack of ego he brings to the page. That he exposes his experience in harrowing detail and still emerges as a father of heart-stopping tenderness is an act of divine love. This book explodes with devotion."
—Mary-Louise Parker, actress and author of DEAR MR. YOU
"Dare I say it, this book feels fatherly. I trust it. It's brilliant yet plain-spoken, rooted in experience, wholehearted, and wise."
—Maggie Smith, The Washington Post
"This book is a treasure to all of us struggling with feelings of helplessness, to all of us struggling to meet people where they are. Story of a Poem: A Memoir is not an easy-fix or a self-care kind of book but rather one that really does help in terms of clarity and vulnerability. I kept reading parts of it to friends over the phone, feeling less alone. And you will too."
—Denise Duhamel, Best American Poetry
"The awakening of Zapruder as a person is no less astonishing than the 'awakening' of a poem."
—East Bay Times,
"Matthew Zapruder has a razor eye for the remnants and revenants of modern culture."
—The New York Times,
"A document of not only how to make a poem, but how to live in a world where language often fails us."
—Ada Limón, U.S. Poet Laureate