My project has completely changed since first arriving at the Academy. While I’m primarily a poet, I had been working for the last year or so, prior to coming to Rome, almost exclusively on lyric essays that have used Japanese haikus as springboards for my own explorations. Within the second week of my time here, however, I was unexpectedly in the throes of researching Pompeii, assembling a sequence of lyric meditations that used the given names of the excavated homes as both a starting point and thematic anchor that allowed me to wander further afield. House of the Vettii, House of the Large Fountain, House of the Faun, House of the Wild Boar, Garden of the Fugitives, and Villa of the Mysteries are some of the Pompeii sites I have focused on. While all of these pieces have direct grounding in historical and archeological research, I am also interested in interweaving these findings and facts with broader associative motifs, autobiographical meditations, and explorations of some of the ways in which Pompeii has so fiercely seized our imaginations as a cultural hub.
For the different essays I have written thus far, my strategies have been varied. While the elaborate mosaics discovered in “The House of the Faun” play a central role in my piece, for example, I also use the occasion to explore John Keats’ allegory of life as a mansion of many rooms, which leads to descriptions of the somewhat dilapidated Naples Archeological Museum, as well as a retelling of the fable of the man and the faun and my own careless adventure wandering lost through the sketchy back alleys of Naples. In “Villa of the Mysteries,” I interweave thoughts about those iconic and enigmatic frescos with meditations on things such as Dante’s Paradiso, Rome’s shape-shifting starling flocks, the color vermillion, the Book of Job, and some legends about King Midas.
Matt Donovan is the author of Vellum (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner, 2007), which won the 2006 Bakeless Prize in Poetry and the 2008 Larry Levis Reading Prize. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including AGNI, American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, and Poetry, and his nonfiction has appeared in AGNI, Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry International, Threepenny Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.
Donovan is the recipient of a 2010 Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Breadloaf Fellowship in poetry, and a Lannan Writing Residency Fellowship. His work has been acclaimed in The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times Sunday Book Review.