Parnassus Reads: Matthew Zapruder

It’s common enough among poets to juxtapose the high and low, the fantastical and the mundane, but one of the reasons we’re reading Matthew Zapruder is that he makes a credible world out of these contrasts. With speakers that are casual, though not flat or even necessarily calm, he presents our world in a way that the absurd itself feels logical; he convinces the reader to see the strangeness that he has seen (or wants to see). In “White Castle” (published in The Awl), he chooses the banal setting of Wichita, Kansas as a place for meditation.

Here he is on the classic American road trip at a classic American burger joint, but by noticing minor but creepy details like “mysterious holes” in his burger, he convinces himself (and the reader) that there might be something to be taken from what would otherwise be another pit stop at another greasy restaurant. He transforms the original outpost of a chain restaurant into a site of revelatory experience:

…major feelings such as longing for purpose
plunge down like the knowledge one
has been drinking water for one’s whole life
and never actually seen a well…

Even the title, “White Castle,” invites the reader to consider the words on their own terms, recasting the fast-food shack into a temple or (heaven help us) a real castle. Zapruder engages the imagination with the real world, rather than escaping it, but his poems still feel liberating and organic.

The logic we mentioned is key here: his speakers accept that if they’re going to see the world in these terms, that is, transforming the mundane through hard-won but imaginative engagement with it, then that imagination must be extended to the whole world around him. So Zapruder’s speaker addresses the “gentle insects crawling in a line from a crack / in the corner of the base of the original White Castle,” seeing that they, like him, are moving “towards only they know what point in the darkness.” Engagement with the world for him is not selective; it has to happen fully for Zapruder, even if it means realizing he has more in common with these “gentle insects” than he would have cared to acknowledge over a cheeseburger in Kansas.

Matthew Zapruder’s latest, Come on All You Ghosts, is available from Copper Canyon Press. See more of his work at his website,

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Publisher & Editor: Herbert LEIBOWITZ
Co-Editor: Ben DOWNING
Associate Editors:
Assistant Editors:
Design and Art Direction: Alyssa VARNER
Printer: Cadmus Press

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