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One of Paul Simon’s most famous songs contains the lyrics, “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind.” Yet, what are some ways the mind can be eased during dark or challenging times? Writing is one way if you ask UVA professor Charlotte Matthews.
Matthews, a published poet, memoirist, novelist and writing professor for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, recently presented a lecture about this topic to cadets on the campus of Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. Her presentation “Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Writing as a Reliable Overpass” was sponsored by VMI’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta and Department of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies.
In addition to reading from her own published poetry collections during the lecture, Matthews shared poems and quotes from authors including Maya Angelou, William Shakespeare, Donald Hall and L.R. Knost, which explored how writing can help people navigate through times of adversity and crisis by allowing them to put down the burdens they carry.
“To write is curative,” Matthews told the more than 30 cadets and faculty members in attendance. “We are living in a time of extremity. When there is trauma, some write as part of a will to survive or a will to record. There is a feeling of being listened to when you write.”
Matthews, who sets aside time to write every day, suggested ways to sustain a writing practice with a busy schedule. She also provided other advice and tips to existing and aspiring writers in the audience. When asked, she even advised on her preferred writing utensils including her old Royal typewriter and the paper on which she likes to write.
“I write down everything,” she said as she held up the small journal she takes with her everywhere. “If I’m in line at Kroger, I write it down. I will go home and write an entire essay about tonight. Writing is sacred time.”
It is well-known amongst Matthews’ students and colleagues at SCPS that she can compose a poem, upon request, within just a few minutes. She accomplished this feat to the VMI audience’s delight through a group writing exercise as part of her presentation.
“Charlotte helps you to be in the present,” said Lt. Col. Pennie Ticen, a longtime English faculty member at VMI who first met Matthews during an online writing workshop offered by the Chautauqua Institution. “She helps slow you down and be observant.”
Matthews hopes her visit to VMI will lead to more interactions between the two schools. “I have great honor for the military,” she told the cadets in attendance. “I respect the regiment and rigor in which each of you live.”
Matthews' published poetry collections are “Still Enough to Be Dreaming,” “Green Stars” and “Whistle What Can’t Be Said.” Her other published works include the novel “The Collapsible Mannequin” and a memoir “Comes with Furniture and People” which was a finalist for Indie Awards in the category of Women’s Issues. You can find more of her writing at www.charlottematthewswriter.com.