Reading Old Friends includes essays, reviews, and poems on poetics. Matthias, who has spent much time in England, concentrates on British poetry ranging from late modernist figures such as David Jones and Hugh MacDiarmid to contemporaries such as Geoffrey Hill, Seamus Heaney, Michael Hamburger, and John Fuller. He also seeks to establish, or re-establish, meaningful trans-Atlantic connections between Wendell Berry and Jeremy Hooker, for example, or between Robert Duncan and David Jones. Other, more generally acknowledged figures, are also discussed, including Wordsworth, Pope, Crabbe, Constable, Turner, Britten, Tippet, Lowell, Auden, and Berryman. The book also contains three poems on poetics that engage many of the theoretical issues left implicit in most of the essays.
John Matthias is Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame and has been Visiting Fellow in poetry at Clare Hall, Cambridge. His six volumes of poetry include Turns, Crossing, Northern Summer: New and Selected Poems, and A Gathering of Ways. He has co-translated Contemporary Swedish Poetry, and The Battle of Kosovo, and he has edited 23 Modern British Poets, Introducing David Jones, and David Jones: Man and Poet. He has received awards from the Columbia University Translation Center, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Society of Midland Authors, and the Poetry Society of America. His poems and essays appear regularly in many American and British journals, and his work has been translated into Swedish, Dutch, French, German, Greek , and Serbo-Croatian.
"John Matthias is one of the leading poets in the USA at the moment. He is also an accomplished critic. These pieces are written in a congenial and civilized style. They are not 'criticism' in the current sense of tedious argument and defended theory. John writes for an audience that reads. Even so, there is a great deal of good criticism here, and the book will be reviewed as a critical tour de force. This is a lively book, an intelligent one, and one I think many will admire and find powerfully interesting. " — Guy Davenport, University of Kentucky
"He is a unique talent, combining the experimental energies of modernism and postmodernism with an acute sense of literary form…These impulses emerge, variously but always engagingly, throughout the essays collected here. " — Vincent Sherry, Villanova University
In reviewing Matthias' column "Not for Sale in USA," the Washington Post said of his poetry criticism, "Matthias writes with such gusto, knowledge, and love… Every word of this is exciting for anyone in the least interested in poetry. "