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The Beat: Matthew Wimberley and Herman Melville

Matthew Wimberley grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He’s the author of Daniel Boone's Window and All the Great Territories. Wimberley has won the Crab Orchard Poetry Series First Book Award, the Weatherford Award, the William Matthews Prize, and his work was chosen for the 2016 Best New Poets Anthology. He's an Assistant Professor of English at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.  

Herman Melville (1819-1891) was born in New York City. He's best known as the author of novels like Moby Dick and White-Jacket, along with short fiction including “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and “Benito Cereno.” However, Melville spent decades writing poetry exclusively, and critics have ranked him, alongside Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, as one of the best poets of the 19th century.   

Links: 

Read "And So It Ends with the Cry of a Nuthatch on the First Day of Spring"

Read "Shiloh: A Requiem"

Matthew Wimberley

"The Celebrated Colors of the Local Sunsets" at Poets.org

“Tabula Rasa” in Rattle

“Elegy at Night” in The Paris-American 

Three poems in Blackbird

Four poems in Narrative

“’If There Is Anything to Show You:’ An Interview with Matthew Wimberley”

Herman Melville

Bio and poems at Poetryfoundation.org

Bio and poems at Poets.org

“Herman Melville: American Author" at Britannica.com”

"Herman Melville at Home" in The New Yorker

Music is by Chad Crouch

Mentioned in this episode:

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Transcript
Alan May:

Welcome to The Beat. Today, we’ll hear two poems read by the poet Matthew Wimberley. The first poem, “And So It Ends with the Cry of a Nuthatch on the First Day of Spring,” is from his new book Daniel Boone’s Window. Wimberly follows by reading “Shiloh: A Requiem,” a poem by Herman Melville, published in 1866.

Matthew Wimberley:

AND SO IT ENDS WITH THE CRY OF A NUTHATCH ON THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING

Is this the cold future name

of snow? Something fine and rare

you’ll have to see to believe—the black and white

photograph of a Tasmanian Devil I used to carry

in my backpack, not knowing the colors

beyond their description? The pilot

in the gas logs sputters its pale blue glow

—a moon sunk into the valley—sounding

like a laugh you try to hide

under your breath until it skips out,

a stone thrown down a creek

side armed and with a flick

of the fingers. I know I’ll have to get up

from the couch and crawl into bed

and dream, and I know while I dream

they’ll start taking children

from their fathers and mothers again

and my protest will turn out to be

the hum of a fly’s wings against a quiet

dark all around. Only the stars

linger to watch—witnesses

no one will call to the stand. While

the dark withers into the fields

and into the semi-frozen grasses

and while the copper beech leaves rattle

I begin to wonder what’s left of revelation?

What’s to come? Though no one—

not even Levi, the barber who smokes

Purple Virginia Slims and knows

every rumor in town—how the wife

of the police chief is sleeping with the deputy,

or how last week at a revival

at one of the churches

they took up snakes in the name of the Holy Ghost

—not even he could tell me how

tomorrow begins. What I can make of this all now

will slowly fade away

here on this page

which wants only emptiness,

the beginning and end of desire. Days

no one will remember will

vanish, drift off into the distance.

Earlier I counted five nuthatches out in the limbs

of a sugar maple. One of them

must have been warning the others

of my approach, and she called out

with a voice like water

being drawn from an old well

on a rusted pulley,

and I called back

to no one but her, though

the dead grasses and moss overheard, to ask

if this was the music the world ends to? The sky

was the bluest I’d ever seen—cyanic, an ocean—

a few clouds taking shape and rising over a horseshoe ridge—

the signs cast for us all, hieroglyphs

we have no names for

only guesses.

I'm going to be reading Herman Melville's "Shiloh: A Requiem." It's the first what you might call "serious" poem that I ever memorized. It was in the sixth grade, and my teacher took us to the school library and said, "Everyone pick out one book and memorize a paragraph from it." And, as I was looking down the stacks, I saw this beautiful spine: Battle Hymns. And I picked it out, and it was poems. And I saw this poem "Shiloh: A Requiem." I didn't know what Shiloh was or what a requiem was, but I liked the way that they sounded. And so my teacher said, "Sure, you can memorize a poem. And here we are.

SHILOH: A REQUIEM

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,

The swallows fly low

Over the field in clouded days,

The forest-field of Shiloh—

Over the field where April rain

Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain

through the pause of night

That followed the Sunday fight

Around the church of Shiloh—

The church so lone, the log-built one,

That echoed to many a parting groan

And natural prayer

Of dying foemen mingled there—

Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—

Fame or country least their care:

(What like a bullet can undeceive!)

But now they lie low,

While over them the swallows skim,

And all is hushed at Shiloh.

Alan May:

You just heard Matthew Wimberly reading his poem “And So It Ends with the Cry of a Nuthatch on the First Day of Spring,” followed by “Shiloh: A Requiem” by Herman Melville. Wimberley was kind enough to record these poems for us at his home in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Matthew Wimberley grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He’s the author of two collections of poetry, Daniel Boone's Window, selected by Dave Smith for the Southern Messenger Poetry Series at LSU Press, and All the Great Territories, which won the 2018 Crab Orchard Poetry Series First Book Award. Wimberley has also won the Weatherford Award, the William Matthews Prize, and his work was chosen for the 2016 Best New Poets Anthology. His writing has appeared most recently in the Poem-a-Day series from the Academy of American Poets. Wimberley received his MFA from NYU where he worked with children at St. Mary's Hospital as a Starworks Fellow. He's an Assistant Professor of English at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.

Herman Melville was born in New York City. He's best known as the author of novels like Moby Dick and White-Jacket, along with short fiction including “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and “Benito Cereno.” However, Melville spent decades writing poetry exclusively, and critics have ranked him, alongside Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, as one of the best poets of the 19th century. You can find books by Matthew Wimberley and Herman Melville in our online catalog. Or call us at the Reference Desk at Lawson McGhee Library. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.

About the Podcast

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Melissa Brenneman

Melissa listens to hours of podcasts on most days. She started the habit with the intention of taking long walks, but podcasts proved to be more addicting than exercise. She records, edits and mixes podcasts for the library.
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Alan May

Alan May works as a reference librarian at Lawson McGhee Library. In his spare time, he reads and writes poetry. May's most recent books are Dead Letters (2008) and More Unknowns (2014). His poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, The New Orleans Review, Plume, and others.