Poet Matthew Zapruder and Fiction writer Amy Hempel after their reading at the Juniper Summer Writing Institute (Photo by Ryan Williams courtesy the Juniper Summer Writing Institute)

A few weeks ago I had a chance to meet writers Matthew Zapruder and Amy Hempel for the first time. The event was part of a reading series at the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, an annual summer workshop at the University of Massachusetts that brings students and accomplished writers together to explore the craft of poetry, fiction, and memoir.

Zapruder and Hempel did not disappoint. Zapruder read a selection of new poems, including “Poem Without Intimacy,” which was a featured Sunday Poem here on Gwarlingo. His most recent book, Come on All You Ghosts, includes two of my favorite works, “Pocket” (also published on Gwarlingo) and “April Snow,” which Zapruder read at UMass.

Here is an excerpt from “April Snow” (courtesy Copper Canyon Press):

Today in El Paso all the planes are asleep on the runway. The world
is in a delay. All the political consultants drinking whiskey keep
their heads down, lifting them only to look at the beautiful scarred
waitress who wears typewriter keys as a necklace. They jingle
when she brings them drinks. Outside the giant plate glass windows
the planes are completely covered in snow, it piles up on the wings.
I feel like a mountain of cell phone chargers. Each of the various
faiths of our various fathers keeps us only partly protected. I don’t
want to talk on the phone to an angel.

 

Zapruder’s poems are provocative, unexpected, and capture contemporary American life in an entirely original way. In “April Snow” it is the “scarred waitress who wears typewriter keys as a necklace” and the “mountain of cell phone chargers” that prevent the poem from lapsing into a conventional, snowy reverie. Amidst the emotional insights and vivid descriptions of place in Come on All You Ghosts are mentions of a Xerox machine, David Foster Wallace, the unemployment rate, Joni Mitchell, ESPN, and Diet Coke. Not every poet could make this combination work, but Zapruder does.

 

Zapruder read a selection of new poems, including “Poem Without Intimacy,” which was a featured Sunday Poem on Gwarlingo. (Photo by Ryan Williams courtesy the Juniper Summer Writing Institute)

Zapruder came to poetry in his twenties while earning his PhD in Slavic languages and literature at UC Berkeley. He realized that compared to his fellow students he didn’t have the focus and dedication he needed to pursue his field of study professionally, so decided to follow his true passion instead: poetry. Zapruder went on to earn his MFA at the University of Massachusetts.

“There’s a lot of bullshit about MFAs, and