Clay Matthews: Runoff

Runoff is  thick: 120+ pages of loose narrative with long lines (20+ syllables per line in the first section) fancy formatting for 56 pages, smallish font—all of which would normally intimidate the hell out of readers. But Matt Hart is exactly right about Runoff when he says, “Your head will spin, your eyes will bulge, you’ll think you could’ve done it, but you didn’t (and you couldn’t)!” Matthew’s images are fresh and precise, his tone is innocuous, his sense of movement seems effortless, and his knack for writing the plain and miraculous and dreadful truth is obvious.

This book is natural. Not only natural in the realm of weather, landscape, birds and horses, trees and hay bails, but also in summer barbeques, dragging out the box of sweaters for winter, blues and booze to pass the time, and the rotation of holiday decorations at Wal-Mart.  It’s a catalogue of one year in the life that Matthew’s knows we know:  “I move through one day, and another / but I take them one at a time, slowly with precaution, I throw caution to the wind / and the wind takes it.” The charm of Runoff is how free it is. Matthews doesn’t bullshit us—he calls it like he sees it. He doesn’t romanticize the everyday to make it interesting.

A fitting selection from the winter section (which has some of that fancy formatting):

“So we knock on bark and say Hello.                     And you bark                                                                                            against the cold air                  the warm air                  you bark as your own means of breathing.”

This selection has typical characteristics of Runoff: a bit of the comic, repetition and slick movement, a slight shift in perspective, the speaker’s engagement with his surroundings, and a suggestion of something philosophical. Most of all, the language is alive. And it’s that liveliness that prevents me from being able to put the book down, that makes me agree when Matthews writes:

We are all fighting for our lives,
and it’s a good time to do so, being strong, being hopeful, being moved
by the thousand things coming up in the world,
by the fight that is all around.


  • JaimeRWood says:

    I’m curious about a few things. First, who put out this book? Also, would you consider it experimental? Or is the form just working with the content in a fairly logical way?

  • Amanda Bea says:

    BlazeVOX put out the book. And I wouldn’t call it experimental. You can check out Clay’s blog to see a couple sample pages. The best way I can explain the formatting is to say that it generates tension and determines the pace. Matthew’s controls it to make sure it doesn’t feel gimmicky or superimposed.

    Runoff definitely feels like a project–documenting an entire year with poetry–which is similar to what you’re saying about logic. Again though, it feels natural. Even though we know Matthew’s is reflecting on the year, the language and tone make it immediate, as if we’re there while he’s experiencing, not while he’s putting it into the book.

  • Clay says:


    Thanks so much for the good words. You rock.


  • JCH II says:

    I consider myself more a tunesmith than a poet. And I am not an educated man in regards to the English language or writing. I would classify this as Americana, immediate, and bloody excellent.

  • daniel childers says:

    I only new a few who could ,but within those who follow shall cherish a great book.

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