Photo: Sandhill cranes, Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Florida, December, 2003. BD
"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there."
-- William Carlos Williams
I believe that.
Matthew was only 23 when he was shot dead on the street four years ago, September 4, 2008. My heart went cold when the voice on my cell phone identified herself as an SFPD Homicide Detective. I knew Matt was dead.
This small book of poems, Looking for Matthew, is my response to his murder.
Photo: Mock-up of letterpress cover
I'm the only one that can tell the story of me and Matthew. But it's bigger than that! I work in West Oakland, and I have seen the spontaneous street memorials go up by the chain-link fence. I know what that's like. I've been there.
And I tell this story in poems because that's who I am, and it is especially important for this story to be told in poems because Matt was a poet and now he's gone--the rap poems he might have spoken will never be heard. My poems are not rap poems but they are meant to be spoken, like Matt's.
I want to make them into a beautiful book, a book that takes time and effort to produce, to honor Matt’s short life and to call our attention to the thousands of other kids who die from this kind of violence. Lives blown away. Gone! A blip on the nightly news, if that!
I can do that—make a beautiful book because I am a letterpress printer.
Letterpress printing takes time and effort.
It is a labor of love.
It takes years of practice to learn. It’s old-fashioned, hands-on printing.
I want to do that for Matthew—make something really beautiful to honor his short life. And this beautiful book can then find its way into unexpected places—places Matthew may never have gone but there he will be—still in the world.
Matt in August 2008-Photo: Goodwill San Francisco
I do believe what William Carlos Williams said. I know that when poems do their job, inside a person, hope springs up. These poems come out of tragedy but they give hope. They need to be in the world—everywhere—so they can do the work that poems do. So I will do other things too to get these poems out there. I will have an ordinary paperback version printed and I will record an audio book CD.
The letterpress edition will be 50 books, each book will have 64 pages, four folios of 16 pages each, hand stitched and bound. 10 of these books will be hardbound and exquisitely boxed, worthy of any museum’s collection, and 40 will be softbound with letter-pressed covers.
So the poems can travel more widely, I'll have 200 copies of the book printed offset, like any regular paperback in the book store. The paperback book will be published by Apocryphile Press, Berkeley, California.
Finally, I will record an audio book, a CD of the entire collection so the words can be heard, like Matthew’s were. I plan to record and package 300 CDs. The CDs will be produced by Marc Deprey of Sebastopol, California, printed and packaged by Disc Makers of Berkeley, California.
Together, you and I can make this happen.
I will take care of things on this end and with your help it will happen.
The Poems . . .
This is a project that has been years in the making.
Fourteen of the seventeen poems came to me within the first several months following Matt’s murder. On the second anniversary of his death, I revisited the poems and began thinking of making them into a small chapbook.Over the next few months three more poems came and I felt some sense of completion. Anyone who has experienced such a loss knows the grief never goes away but it does change over time, becomes less raw, becomes deeper.
Photo: Matthew and his son, Jayvion
In February of this year I began to plan seriously to bring the poems into the world. I had already designed the book and written a foreword. I submitted the manuscript to an editor who was unsparing in her critique. I read the critique carefully and set it aside. For the next three months I worked diligently on bringing the manuscript to its present state.
and what people are saying . . .
I have shared this manuscript with several dozen readers. Here are a few of their responses:
"So, you are writing for thousands who cannot write, as well as for thousands who have died, and millions more in categories untold."
-- Mary Laird, Owner, Quelquefois Press, Berkeley, California
I have been very slowly reading through the manuscript--allowing myself to take it in and let it reverberate with my own experience. For now, I just want you to know I think it is beautiful work . . . as you speak for all of us who have lost youth and mourn them.
-- Kim Nelson, poet, teacher with The Beat Within: a weekly
publication of writing and art from the inside
(Alameda County Juvenile Hall)
Your book is a true honoring of Matthew as a person, your feelings for him and his loss, a huge shared wail at the lives of so many children and youth, and another huge wail at violence in our world. You show how someone not on the streets, someone not blood-family, someone not “homie,” can be so deeply affected by the death of a young man the world often ignores. You let youth know that there are “citizens” out here who care, and not only politically or abstractly, but from the heart. All this beauty and giving-of-self honors Matthew, of course, but also honors all of us with whom you’re sharing.
--Judith Tannenbaum — poet, teacher, author of Disguised as a Poem:
My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin
By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives
(two-person memoir written with Spoon Jackson)
I have just finished reading yet again your collection of Looking for Matthew. I read each poem carefully and recited each aloud. I am again struck with their magnificence (I do not use that word lightly). The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts and each part, poem, is in itself quite fine. It is a great tribute to many things, of course, love and loss and how loss intensifies love. It is a tribute to both Matthew and yourself, to Matthew because your care and seeing of him in such loving detail is inspirational and to yourself as an example of a deeply soulful man... and what deep soul in a man can accomplish in the way of universal expression. Again, the book is magnificent.
--Hari Meyers, Raconteur/scholar of World Myths
The time is now
I am ready to bring these poems into the world.
The manuscript has already been laid out in Adobe InDesign by Kim Vanderheiden of Painted Tongue Press and is ready to go to the ImageSetter, to be turned into negatives which, in turn, will be used to make photopolymer plates which I will put on the press and begin printing. The mock-up has been made for the binding and the imposition. The binding will be done by Pettingell Book Bindry of Berkeley, California and the boxes will be made by Bettina Pauly and Mitsuko Baum of Painted Tongue Press in Oakland.
Marc and I have made the video. I have told this story and we have set our levels of contribution. There are a number of ways to contribute. At each level, we offer something in return. I list those on the side of the screen for everyone to see.
So this is what we can do for Matthew and for all those who have lost their lives to street violence. By taking this tragedy and turning it into a lasting thing of beauty—the words themselves and the books that contain them, we can honor these lives lost. And in the particular case of Matthew, these books and CDs allow him to stay with us and to continue to touch people the way he did in life.
Matthew Avery Solomon - March 3, 1985 - September 4, 2008
Photograph courtesy Goodwill San Francisco California
Let’s bring these poems to the world.
I’m asking for your contribution today.
And I am askng you to spread the word to your friends and colleagues on all your networks.
Let's get these poems out there!
I say, "Thank you," knowing that your real thanks will be when these poems are no longer just mine but belong to you and to everyone else whom they may touch.
Looking for Matthew
(the poems in the order that they appear in the book--the Day indicates the day of creation and the number of days since Matt's murder)
A personal journey (Day 85)
Day 2 - Matt
Day 3 - The emerald flash
Day 5 - Hope
Day 9 - Matt's funeral
Day 10 - Thank you
Day 16 - My grief's companion
Photo of My Grief's Companion by Luz Marina Ruiz
Day 16 - December's eyes
Day 17 - On being left behind
Day 17 - On the death of a child
Day 18 - Looking for Matthew
Day 35 - This I believe
Day 53 - Matt's ashes
Day 94 - Matthew's gift
Third year - Day 8 - One right action
Third year - Day 77 - Grief
Third year - Day 78 - O, Felix culpa! Oh, light from Darkness!
Photo: Matt at 8
Photo: Matt at 12