The Chronogram Poets: Matthew J. Spireng

(In the November Chronogram poetry roundup, Djelloul Marbrook writes of Matthew J. Spireng’s What Focus Is: “Spireng is a poet of place, space, and creatureliness–the book begins with a drowning horse and ends with a pigeon attending a poetry festival. The rhetoric is evolved and informed, inarguably appropriate to the task, even if it’s to describe poet Marge Piercy’s twiddly toes.” On Sunday, November 27, Spireng and other poets from the issue will read at the Kleinert/James Art Center in Woodstock at 4 pm. Here he discusses a poem from What Focus Is.)


Flying up and away toward
a cedar’s green flame: a jay.
Nothing comes close to its color
in the autumn fields. Even the juniper berries

look more like bruise than blue.
It is a brash statement against
camouflage. Look at me! Look at me!
the blue jay says. And we do.

All this busyness of bushes and trees,
browned grasses in the field, and
there: the jay. Blue.
Oh, look at it: blue!

Out of the blue. That, for me, is often where poems come from. I see something, hear or read a phrase, or suddenly remember an image from long ago, and a poem is conceived.

In the case of “Blue,” it was something I saw. A blue jay. Oh, I’ve seen blue jays my whole life and not been stirred to write a poem. But in this instance—and I remember it well—, as I was driving northwest on Mill Dam Road slightly over a mile from my home in Lomontville, a blue jay flying up on the right side of the road caught my attention. And I instantly knew what I’d seen would become a poem.

Now, while I was driving toward my home at the time, I can’t, years later, recall if I started putting the poem on paper the moment I walked in the door or if it was some time later that the image—blue jay, cedar tree, field with bushes and other trees—became the poem “Blue.” I can say with certainty, because I keep track of these things, that the poem was put into my computer on Oct. 7, 2000, the date I consider to be when it was written, and that I have never revised it since then.

The inclusion of “Blue” in the manuscript What Focus Is was a no-brainer. It is a poem of focus, about focus. The blue jay, something I’d seen countless times before, became THE blue jay. Out of the blue, the poem.

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