Literary Nonfiction. Poetry. The wars at issue in SOME WORDS ON THOSE WARS are the two great World Wars. In 2020, John Matthias published a long selection of fiction and memoirs with Dos Madres called TALES TALL & SHORT. The present book is a kind of companion to that volume. In his preface, Matthias calls it a "hybrid" book because it contains both poetry and prose. One purpose is to contextualize as fully as possible a reprinting of both his long poem "Kedging in Time" (2007) and the essay engaging its history and allusions, "'Kedging in 'Kedging in Time.'" The poem was written in large measure as a tribute to his wife's family, both sides of which produced British navy men ranging from midshipmen to admirals. Diana, Matthias's wife who died in 2020, sailed her own small boat on the Suffolk River Alde. That, too, is treated in the poem, and the book itself concludes with an edited version, with commentary, of Pamela Adams's "The Iron Pier," in which she describes, as possibly the last living person to have witnessed it, the surrender of the German fleet at the end of World War I. Pamela was Diana's mother. Along with a group of shorter poems dealing directly or indirectly with the World Wars are four essays considering the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, David Jones's little-known work "The Book of Balaam's Ass," the description of the first German gas attack in Malraux's The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, W. H. Auden's work following his immigration to the United States just before World War II, and Katherine Anne Porter's haunting short novel Pale Horse, Pale Rider, dealing with the postwar Spanish influenza, suddenly so newly relevant to us as a generation forced to live through our own pandemic.
John Matthias has been publishing poetry, criticism, memoirs, plays, and translations since the appearance of his first book in 1970. He taught Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Notre Dame for nearly fifty years and has been Visiting Fellow in Poetry at Clare Hall, Cambridge. Among his recent books, LIVING WITH A VISIONARY (Dos Madres Press, 2021) takes its title from his New Yorker memoir about his wife Diana's struggle with Parkinson's disease that was widely read in 2021, while SOME WORDS ON THOSE WARS (Dos Madres Press, 2021) provides the social, military, and political context for "Kedging," a long poem about her distinguished British family. That poem, in turn, leads directly to "The Scent of Smoke," the first selection in the present book.