Matt Spireng: a poetic epiphany

Matt Spireng. (photo by Rich Corozine)

I guess one could call it an epiphany. But what happened to Matt Spireng at age 21 perhaps should be termed a moment of “kairos” — that complete clarity that seems to come from out of the blue — and it was the inspiration for him to begin writing poetry. That “moment” was when Spireng learned he had been adopted as an infant. Up until then, Spireng was a math major at Clarkson College (in Potsdam, NY) with no real dedication to poetry. Oh, he had audited a class at SUNY Potsdam and loved it, but poetry as a way of life?

“When I look back on it, my mind seemed to have shifted with that information, like I became another person, my brain started working from the other side, the more creative side as opposed to the logical side for mathematics.” He was given no other information regarding his adoption, but acknowledges that the news shifted his focus to poetry. So after getting his degree from Clarkson, he got an MA from Hollins College in Creative Writing, earning an Academy of American Poets prize. His thesis was a “manuscript of poems.”

Then, strangely (again), he stopped writing poetry soon after, and became a journalist, working for the Kingston Daily Freeman as a reporter and editor until 2014, when yet another piece of his adoption saga fell into his path. But until then…


“I had stopped writing poetry for nearly 20 years after the MA, then took it up again in 1989 and never stopped. I was in my 40’s and I felt no longer self-conscious about writing poems, sending them out and being rejected. It made things start to happen as a poet.” Since then, nearly 1,000 of his poems have appeared in magazines across the US and in several anthologies and he has authored seven books of poetry — two full-length and five chapbooks. Spireng has also been nominated numerous times for a Pushcart Prize — given to the best work published in small presses.

“It (poetry) just hits me, an image or a phrase, and it starts to write itself. Most of my ideas come just when I’m going off to sleep, when my conscious-mind, my analytical and logical mind, is dozing off and sleep brings things, other things, out, brings things to a head, the unconscious, and I write them down (he leaves a yellow pad by his bed). That randomness connects me to my write-a-poem-a-day-for-a-year conscious self, which is to practice my craft, to just write…”


Today I’ll write about nothing,

But already it seems like something.”

(published in Tar River Poetry
E. Carolina University, Greenville, NC)

“I like poems and writing that will elicit an emotional response, not be obscure. Accessible poetry. Transparent poetry.”

“May Night

Already a firefly

flashes high in the willow,

the day so warm

it felt like June coming on.

But the humidity was low

and tonight the air became chill

beneath a clear and cloudless sky.

Now a lone firefly

awakened by the false summer sun

climbs feebly high in the willow

answering the clamor of stars.”

(published in Blueline, SUNY Potsdam
reprinted in Encounters, Finishing Line Press)

“I like to think of my poetry, especially at readings, as ping-pong poetry, where every other one will be serious or funny. I’m trying to communicate. To entertain. Turn the audience, whether listeners or readers, on to poetry.”

“Beware the Bagel

According to the headline

on the internet, one of the most dangerous

foods around is the bagel…”

And Spireng casts a humorous eye at what can happen when you eat one: goes down the wrong way, pulls a filling from your tooth, too much salt, allergic reaction, cutting yourself when slicing it, emergency rooms, etc…

“…that seemed to suggest

I was in immediate danger

from the bagel I was eating just then.”

(published in The Healing Muse, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY)

In the fall of 2014, Spireng, after many years of investigating, found a document answering many of his questions about his birth. “I found that I was born to an unwed mother in a hospital near Binghamton. She was from Sydney, New York and was an 18 year-old.” Her maiden name was Croft. His birth name was Bernard. The father was unknown. He did an even more intense search and in November found her grave. His mother had birthed eleven children. Spireng, an only child, suddenly had ten brothers and sisters.

“There Is A Place (an excerpt)

…You become a child here. You

trust everything. It is

the enchanted place you saw

when your mother read for you

on her lap, near the soft edges of sleep,

where the beauty of the vision

seemed a dream…”

(published in The Cape Rock, Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO
reprinted in Out of Body magazine)

The story of this unwanted child discovering his unknown family is in Spireng’s just completed non-fiction book called Family. He has already written poems inspired by the discovery and will be reading some of them (and others) at Roost Gallery on Main Street in New Paltz on Friday, September 1 (sponsored by CAPS).