Matthews to focus on the power of silence



There are moments that people miss everyday, shards of meaning that become drowned out by noise. Poet Charlotte Matthews thinks it is these small moments that can enlighten and even heal people.

Matthews, the poet-in-residence for Week Seven, will discuss this during her Brown Bag lecture, called “A Kind of Devotion” at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

“A devotion is attending to the minutiae of life, the small details — the shark’s tooth in the sand, or the Queen Anne’s lace in the field — devoting one’s self carefully to that which one is looking at,” Matthews said.

Devotion allows one to create a sense of silence, and to Matthews, that silence can be illuminating. Matthews tries to use silence in her own poetry, which she has now been writing for almost 40 years.

“I feel like poetry is a way to articulate the state of being a human without diminishing it,” Matthews said. “It’s a way of explaining what it is to be alive in as sharp of a way as it is to be alive.”

The poet intends to show others the impact that silence can have in writing, especially poetry.

“I’m hoping to cover a sense of how silence in writing can help that devotion, amplify it and highlight it,” Matthews said. “So [I’ll look at] the place of silence in writing, and how a poem can have silence as a character, and thereby allow devotion to the topic. To have time. Silence is a buyer of time, and silence is a way to devote and pay careful attention.”

Matthews said today’s culture has become obsessed with drowning out silence, often with noise. Without the noise, however, there is space to reflect.

“Silence is an important aspect,” she said. “We live in a culture that is afraid of silence, that does all we can — in an elevator, there has to be music — all the time there needs to be sound. If one were to cut out the sounds, then we’d have time to look for our thoughts. And we live in a culture that doesn’t like to do that. So I like to bring that into my own writing and into my own teaching.”

Matthews said she hopes her Brown Bag will help people reconnect to the world around them — even those who are not writers.

“Looking carefully can be a healer, a balm,” she said. “Even if someone attending my lecture is not a writer or a poet, I would hope somebody attending it would come away being able to look carefully at an oak leaf and not see that as a waste of time, but as a part of life they’d forgotten. That needs to be brought back into our culture.”