When William Matthews died, the day after his fifty-fifth birthday, America lost one of its most important poets, one whose humor and wit were balanced by deep emotion, whose off-the-cuff inventiveness belied the acuity of his verse. Drawing from his eleven collections and including twenty-three previously unpublished poems, Search Party is the essential compilation of this beloved poet's work. Edited by his son, Sebastian Matthews, and William Matthews's friend and fellow poet Stanley Plumly (who also introduces the book), Search Party is an excellent introduction to the poet and his glistening riffs on twentieth-century topics from basketball to food to jazz.
Like his beloved jazzmen, Matthews tried to make his craft sound easy; sometimes he succeeded too well. As the introduction to Search Party explains, a truly collected Matthews would include more than 800 published poems; this volume has just 165, with 26 previously unpublished in book form and 139 from his 10 earlier books of poetry, including the posthumous ''After All.'' Even in this selection by Sebastian Matthews and Stanley Plumly, the poems (especially those of the 1980's) become disconcerting in their professional fluency: Matthews, like a busy touring musician, completed each performance, and then moved on. Stephen Burt