Poets Go Pop: Matt W. Miller Takes Us to the Movies in Tender the River

The New England poet discusses pop culture's role in poetry, the difficulty of writing about "real life," & his poem "Real Life" about boxer Mickey Ward in the 2010 Mark Wahlberg film The Fighter.

This is Poets Go Pop, a semi-regular feature at PopPoetry, a poetry and pop culture Substack written by Caitlin Cowan. You can learn more about it here. Check out the archive to see other TV shows, movies, and films whose intersections with poetry I’ve covered. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, subscribe so you won’t miss a post!


Hello and welcome to another installment of PopPoetry’s interview series: Poets Go Pop! In these posts, I dive into the work of living poets who work with pop culture in their poetry in one way or another, pick their brains about their relationship to pop culture, and ask them to share how and why it pops up (pun intended) in their work.

Today I’m interviewing poet and educator Matt W. Miller about his incredible book, Tender the River (Texas Review Press), and one poem in particular called “Real Life,” in which the speaker discusses his real-life relationship to the 2010 Mark Wahlberg-led film, The Fighter

This interview has been a long time coming! Several months ago, my computer suffered a catastrophic data loss just after recording Matt’s interview. I thought the video was lost forever. But thanks to an intrepid local data recovery specialist, the recording was unearthed! (If you live in West Michigan, call Tom at Geeks, Inc. for your computer woes: he’s a magician. Thanks, Tom!)

And now, for the main event:

An Interview with Matt W. Miller

Matt is the author of Tender the River and three previous collections of poetry: The Wounded for the Water (Salmon Poetry), Club Icarus (UNT Press), and Cameo Diner (Loom Press). He teaches English and coaches football at Phillips Exeter Academy where he also co-directs the Writers’ Workshop. We got to know each other at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference several years back, and I’m so grateful to know this super kind and super talented human.

Interview Extras

  • You can read “Real Life,” and the “alternate ending” we discuss where it was first published at the American Literary Review.

  • I had the pleasure of reviewing Matt’s book for the Los Angeles Review. For a deeper dive into Tender the River, check it out here.

  • The infamous Dead Poets photo I mentioned in the interview appears above, which reminds me that I have some news: I’ll be writing a guest post for Moviewise: Life Lessons from Movies on this film in the coming months. Stay tuned for a Substack crossover event!

  • Keep up with Matt at his website here.

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This is Poets Go Pop, a semi-regular feature at PopPoetry, a poetry and pop culture Substack written by Caitlin Cowan.You can learn more about it here. Check out the archive to see other TV shows, movies, and films whose intersections with poetry I’ve covered. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, subscribe so you won’t miss a post…
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