Looking for Matthew


It is difficult
to get the news from poems
 yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
William Carlos Williams

I believe that.

Matthew was only 23 when he was shot dead on the street four years ago. I’ll never forget that phone call. When she said “homicide detective” I knew Matt was dead.

This small book of poems, Looking for Matthew, is my response to his murder.

I’m the only one that can tell this part of Matthew’s story—him and me. But it’s bigger than that. I work in west Oakland and I have seen the spontaneous street memorials go up by the chain-link fence. I know what that’s like. I’ve been there.

And I tell this story in poems because that’s who I am and it is especially important that this story be told in poems because Matt was a poet and now he’s gone—the rap poems he might have spoken will never be heard. My poems are not rap poems but they are meant to be spoken, like Matt’s.

I want to make them into beautiful book and that takes time and effort to produce, to honor Matt’s short life and to call our attention the thousands of other kids who die from this kind of violence. Lives blown away. Gone! A blip on the nightly news, if that.

Letterpress printing takes time and effort.

It is a labor of love.

It takes years of practice to learn. It’s old fashioned, hands on printing.

I want to do that for Matthew—make something really beautiful to honor his short life, that something can then find its way into unexpected places—places Matthew may never have gone but there he will be—still in the world.

I’ll do other things too to get these poems out there, a paperback version and an audio book CD, so these poems can do the work of poems, touching people, changing the conversation, moving us toward words and away from bullets.

What can you do? You can go to this link, watch the video, read the pitch and the updates and view the photographs: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/240477?a=1437953. If you are moved to do so and are able you can support our effort but more importantly, if you would like to contact me personally I will be happy to share a pdf of the manuscript with you and you may then share it with others: bill1028@pacbell.net.

Let us change the world, one poem at a time, as my friend Larry Robinson loves to say.

. . . if you go through these neighborhoods, the places we grew up in, it’s happening, it’s not reported on the news . . . for every two Biggie Smalls and Tupac there’s a million other kids that lose their lives to senseless violence—in the hood—all the time and it’s not on TV. These two guys come from the same neighborhood where all this stuff is happening and it’s happening today, continues to happen, that, you know, everyone wants to ignore it unless, you know, it’s a famous person. It’s not right every life is valuable.


WHYY Fresh Air --interview with Terry Gross, 11/16/10

Bill Denham is a poet, spoken word artist and letterpress printer, he was educated at Davidson College in North Carolina (BA in English 1963) and at the University of California , (MA in English 1967).A Southern boy, growing up in the middle of the last century, Bill Denham, learned to love the soft sounds and rhythms of the words he heard around him—a love of language that now, decades later, is evident when he speaks the poems he has taken in, learned by heart.