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Putting poetry in motion, Southold grad’s work to hit book stores next month

Matthew Daddona was poetry in motion when he was a Southold High School athlete. Now his actual poetry is in motion.

Daddona, book editor/poet/freelance writer, will see his debut poetry collection, “House of Sound,” hit stores Oct. 22. The book, a collection of 28 poems that are among his favorites, is being published by Wandering Aengus Press.

The well-spoken Mr. Daddona, 30, called it his “biggest personal creative milestone” in a 48-minute phone interview Tuesday. In an email, he wrote that the book’s release, coming “amid all things strange and surreal and just sad this year, feels momentous.”

Writing captured Mr. Daddona’s imagination as far back as when he was 9 or 10, carrying around a notebook and jotting ideas into it. 

The oldest of five siblings, Mr. Daddona kept writing at Southold High School, where he also ran cross country and played basketball. He was editor of the school paper, The Sentinel, and involved in literary publications as well, including the school’s literary magazine, Founding Voices. Being a writer, he said, was “the only thing I ever dreamed of being.”

Mr. Daddona attended Temple University on a journalism scholarship, but transferred after two years to Brooklyn College. With newspapers and magazines feeling the brunt of the financial crisis of 2008-09, he saw his future in book publishing, and interned at Penguin Books. In 2012, Penguin hired him as an editorial assistant. Now he is a senior editor at Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

“I absolutely love it,” he said. “I think it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s not every day where you can say your job marries your passion, and I think that for me, book publishing does exactly that.”

It’s a job he has done quite well, too. Among the books he has worked on are numerous New York Times and national best sellers. Over the course of a year, he is immersed in various nonfiction book projects involving about a dozen authors.

“It’s being an editor, but it’s also like being a writer’s therapist in many ways,” he said. “It’s not dealing with their emotional problems, but dealing with the problems on the page and talking them through how to get around some of those issues and what those stumbling blocks are, and sometimes conversations are just as important as physical editing.”

Mr. Daddona’s “day job,” as he calls it, works well with another passion: poetry.

Reflecting on his days of writing for Founding Voices, he said, “Like many writers that age, I probably wrote atrocious poetry right through high school and college.”

It was when he was about 22 that he began taking poetry more seriously, submitting his work to poetry journals and sharing it with a cadre of writers who peer reviewed each other’s work. “That’s when I started treating it less as a hobby and more as a craft,” he said.

Mr. Daddona is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize for poetry. His flash fiction piece, “On Shaft Mining,” was a runner-up for The Blue Earth Review’s 2017 fiction contest. He has performed poetry and prose readings in over 20 venues, and has co-hosted a quarterly reading series in Greenwich Village.

After Mr. Daddona sent out proposals for his book to publishers, he received 30 to 40 rejections over a two-year period before three acceptances arrived within a three-week span. “I think that was the ultimate redemptive message, like this can happen, and sometimes waiting is the most rewarding game,” he said.

Mr. Daddona said a number of the poems in his book were “hatched” on the Southold Free Library’s second floor, where he would set up his “office,” surround himself with the books of Robert Duncan, Emily Dickinson and James Wright and “go to work.”

In college, Mr. Daddona studied modernist poetry, which he has since veered away from. (Among the poets he admired were T.S. Elliot, William Carlos Williams and George Oppen.) Nowadays, he favors narrative poetry, which usually describes a story, scene or an event. Sounds like stuff from his journalistic, story-telling roots.

“Those are the poems that move me the most when I read poetry,” he said. “As a writer, that’s what I’m trying to convey.”

Mr. Daddona said the early feedback to his book has been “overwhelming.” One particular positive review came from poet Matthew Lippman, “whose work I have revered and have totally fallen in love with in the past seven or eight years.”

Mr. Lippman’s praise for “House of Sound” is posted on Mr. Daddona’s website. Here’s a sampling: “The poetry of Matthew Daddona is the sound of poetry. It is. Daddona’s poems are sonically and visually brilliant. I mean brilliant, twofold.”

Mr. Daddona said Mr. Lippman’s comments “just kind of floored me.”

Mr. Daddona lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, close to Prospect Park with his fiancée, Katie Dempsey. He is working on a novel that he wants to take to publishers in the winter.

He said, “Having a book out there, it makes you ravenous to want to write more.”

A POET’S FAVORITE POEM

Matthew Daddona said it’s difficult to select his favorite among the poems he has written, but he has chosen this one, a poem written from a mother’s perspective to her son.

From Mom, With Love on Your Birthday

Today when I looked in the mirror

and saw myself aging with you,

I thought Earth wouldn’t be enough

to contain us both

but there it is

turning its constant light on,

like a woman next door

who doesn’t sleep

but lives in a period of wakefulness

that your father calls desire.

It is not at all like that woman

I tell him,

the way her axis is always shifting

from one place to the next,

you are almost dreaming her alive.

Sometimes it helps

that the light turns off.

Sometimes we should

wait for the moon

and be forced to choose

between night and day.

I want to make the moon my painting and string it along for the ride,

this way

when I’m driving I’d have two moons

and one earth.

You could call me on my one phone

and complain about the signal.

Have we ever been so close as now,

the fact that losing signal is possible?

The earth has one set of solutions

for contact and the moon another.

Your father has a theory that the woman

never stops desiring,

that all the world’s light wouldn’t be lost

in her hands.

I show him a picture of you, Matthew,

when the moon bobs like a second head,

behind you the trees sift in repose,

plans lay weighted in your hands.

It’s the heaviness that gets me.

Last night the woman never came home

and the light zapped at moths for hours.

It’s the waiting, too.

I think I might shut it off,

if only to feel assured.

Do you feel okay? You are, right?

I know you have so many cards

and that every year is a birthday,

but here’s another,

one more.

— Matthew Daddona