Making Sense of Squiggly Lines

Poet Dee Matthews on the art and craft of poetry

By Meagan R. Thomas

“You should turn this into a contrapuntal.” Dee Matthews asks me to hand over her laptop and starts to move words of my poem around on the screen. When she shows me the result, I’m floored. She has moved the words into two columns, and triplicated their meanings. As a poet and professor, this is day-to-day for Matthews, who teaches at Bryn Mawr College.

As we work, she tapes my poems to the blackboard like we’re arranging an elaborate conspiracy. She sees the connections, the art of it all, even where I can’t. She gives all the poetry she touches new life.

Matthews has a soft face and wide eyes that achieve a soul-searching intensity. Her hair is twisted into tight rows, and falls gently unnoticed across her face when she concentrates on a page. She often wears statement jewelry, including elaborate gold bangles and cuff bracelets for a regal touch.

– Dee Matthews

In the classroom, Matthews is slow and methodical. She eases the knots out of poetry, highlighting the smallest insights into the language, form, and images. She speaks in a low, mesmerizing voice that makes her students lean in to listen with an intensity of which most college professors could only dream.

Teaching is a big chunk of the work Matthews does. “Much of my time during the academic year is devoted to trying to give my students my attention” She says. “It’s actually hard to concentrate on my own [work] from September through May.”

That devotion is clear. Matthews works personally with each of her students. She has them call her Dee, and is insistent that everyone is equal in a workshop. Everyone is an artist.

“I’m one of those people who wants to share what I’ve learned, and I encourage my students to teach me what they’ve learned.” Matthews says. “My classrooms are symbiotic environments.”

Continue reading