Between the rink and residence

By Marilyn Smulders - June 10, 2009

Matt Robinson is a poet and Residence Life Manager in Dalhousie's Howe Hall. (Danny Abriel)

He’s a poet and he lives in residence, but Matt Robinson is not a poet-in-residence.

Rather, he’s a Residence Life Manager at Dalhousie’s Howe Hall whose job as a full-time live-in residence professional has him working closely with university students and also gives him the flexibility and the creativity to write.

At one point, as a graduate student working towards a PhD in Canadian Literature at UNB, the Halifax resident decided to leave his studies and achieve his goals in another way: working in a university residence community lets him interact with students while maintaining his writing.

“I wanted to be involved with students more than I wanted to teach,” says Mr. Robinson, 35, who worked as a don while at UNB. “I really enjoy the ability to work with university students directly, to help them become better students, better people. It’s such a crucial time when they’re going through a lot of change and making key decisions and choices about what they want to be.”

It’s been working for him. He recently won Malahat Review’s 2009 Long Poem Prize, picking up a tidy pile of cash and having his poem, “against the hard angle,” published in the summer 2009 edition of the review.

About a relationship breakdown, his poem is described by the judges as “knotty and slow, with a latent violence that is continuously courted and undermined.”

“I was married for a little while,” he acknowledges, admitting that while breaking up is painful, “it does make for half-decent writing.”

His most recent previous collection is no cage contains a stare that well (ECW, 2005), a full-length volume of hockey poems. Other collections include tracery & interplay (linked hockey poems from Frog Hollow Press, 2004), how we play at it: a list (ECW, 2002) and A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking (Insomniac Press, 2000).

A revised version of his prize-winning long poem Against the Hard Angle is being published in a limited-edition chapbook by Greenboathouse Press in the fall. His poems have also appeared in anthologies such as The New Canon, Breathing Fire 2, Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada, Exact Fare Only 2, and Landmarks: An Anthology of New Atlantic Canadian Poetry of the Land.

Explaining he’s not a “Truth with a capital T, beauty with a capital B” poet, he finds his inspiration in the everyday: in relationships, memory and loss—and in hockey, where everything seems to come together. Reviewers have remarked on his stunning wordplay, stark imagery, intellectual passion and “things unspoken.”

“I enjoy exploring the dark edge of the game,” says Mr. Robinson, a goaltender who plays pick-up hockey three times a week in the winter and once in the summer. He’s spending his poetry winnings from the Malahat prize on new goalie pads, a blocker, and a trapper.

“I like soccer too,” he adds, “but it’s not as sensory for me as a hockey rink or the closet where you keep your gear.”
 
English professor David McNeil, who teaches the class Sport Literature and Culture: Hockey (ENG 2060), has invited Mr. Robinson to speak to his students on a couple of occasions and plans to again. His class is being offered again in September.

“It’s been a blessing for me (to have him on campus) because he’s a very good poet, very meticulous,” says Dr. McNeil, who adds he’s not a bad goalie either. “I find it fascinating to see the students listening to him so intently as he explains why he chose a point of view, an image, a certain line length … They learn so much about artistic choices just listening to him.” 

As a hockey poet, Mr. Robinson doesn’t write about the winning goal or hockey heroes. He writes about the kid eager for the Zamboni driver to finish or the silence that wraps around an injured player who lies unmoving on the ice—“Hockey played in a Spryfield rink is far from the glamour of the NHL but it’s how a lot of us who love the game experience hockey,” says Dr. McNeil.


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