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Poetry is McCargo’s ministry

South Boston News
Matthew McCargo holding a copy of his new collection of poems titled Sketches of Life. “What I’m seeing, I’m trying to paint a picture of in your head,” McCargo explained.
SoVaNow.com / August 08, 2019
“I wish I was a poet so that I could express my feelings…”

So begins the first poem of Matthew McCargo’s new book of poetry, titled Sketches of Life. The title is a reference to his poetic style, which relies on simple imagery to make a point.

McCargo is well-known as South Boston’s recreation director and before then, as a star basketball player for the high school Comets in the late ‘70s. Less well known is his poetic prowess. For inspiration, he draws from the experiences of people he encounters on the job.

McCargo, who began experimenting with poetry in 2013, said the core of his work is therapeutic.

McCargo once had a favorite uncle named Moses McCargo whom he seldom saw, but when the uncle moved from Scottsburg into South Boston, McCargo vowed to himself, “I’m going to do better.” Yet it did not happen, and his uncle fell ill. In 2014, Moses McCargo passed away.

“All the emotions built up and I just wrote it all down,” said Matthew of the grieving experience.

That led to the poem, “The Poet I Want To Be,” McCargo’s way of reaching out to his uncle in a way that he had never previously taken the time to do. Despite a dislike of public speaking, McCargo recited the poem at his uncle’s funeral. “I got up and read it,” he said.

“Once I put stuff on paper, I could let it go.”

After that first recitation, McCargo realized his family had been moved by his words, so he decided to write another poem, this time for his mother.

“She was so proud of her son’s gift and for her I had to write more,” he said.

She showed it to her friends, and he began to write more prolifically, stretching his range of topics beyond his family.

“I didn’t have that tough skin,” McCargo explained. “If you came in here and cursed me out I would deal with you professionally, but it would bother me when I went home. I couldn’t sleep at night.”

He started to let those thoughts flow into poems such as “Worse Off” and “The Lie,” but as he shared his work with others at Washington Coleman Community Center, McCargo’s new fans delivered new inspiration. One of his poems, “Arthur, Arthur,” imagines arthritis as a troublesome friend and was dedicated to the South Boston Recreation Department’s Senior Citizen Exercise Group.

But he said the inspiration came at a cost. McCargo said that he serves as a confidante for many people who frequent the Washington Coleman rec center, but because of his self-described “thin skin,” their problems haunt him. Such was the case with the poem “Flashbacks and Nightmares,” inspired by McCargo’s talks with war veterans, and how he realized they had trouble watching fireworks without remembering.

“I defeated you on the battlefield, but you continue to thrash about,” McCargo writes, putting to paper the stories he heard.

Some of McCargo’s poems seem to strike especially strong chords with his readers. Of his more than 200 works, he and his wife Kristy McCargo selected only 40 for his first collection. McCargo says these poems stood out because for each of them, “everybody, probably everybody, has had that experience.” He added, “whether they [in the community] know it or not, they all contributed to it.”

Yet it is McCargo’s most personal and intimate poetry that is the most powerful, particularly in his poetry on death and loss.

“It was a healing thing for me,” McCargo said. “My brother’s death, I just started writing.”

That experience became “Love Light,” the 26th poem of the collection. McCargo said, “I’m thinking, ‘What can you say at a time like this?’ and I said, ‘There’s nothing anyone on this earth can say to me to make me feel better.’ The only thing that would, would be if my brother said something to me.”

“And until we meet again it’s not goodbye just Goodnight,” writes McCargo in “Love Light.”

When McCargo thought about his best poem, he turned to “Black Ice.”

“At one time I was dealing with a rare heart disease, a divorce, and everything on the job going wrong, and it felt like as soon as it seemed like I’d got my life back on track, something else would happen,” he said.

Those feelings led him to write, “My life sometimes I think is the best comparison to a car being driven upon ice,” the opening line to “Black Ice.”

McCargo says that his talents are God-given in the sense that he does not understand where they come from or why his poetry moves others. He said that he normally spends about ten minutes scratching a few lines onto a notebook or the back of a napkin, and then later will read them to his friends to see what they think.

“A lot of stuff comes in my head, so I think that it is a God-given gift,” McCargo said. He said some pastors had told him, “Your poetry is your ministry.”

McCargo admits that his book would not have come together if his friends and family had not helped. His wife Kristy encouraged him and helped him do work on the computer, which McCargo said he is not good at operating. His nephew Mikal Townsend organized his material, and another nephew, Korey Townsend, preceded him as a poet, showing him that it was possible.

McCargo’s rec department friends have also stepped up to help. Charlie and Mae Brooks, a couple who attend the senior programs at the Washington Coleman center, read and critiqued McCargo’s poetry. Sketches of Life lists them as “my biggest fans.” Another acquaintance at the center, Belinda Sydnor, typed his poetry and helped arrange it. He also attributes his success to the two local papers that publish his poetry.

McCargo’s book is available on LuLu.com, an Amazon brand, and has been placed in the Library of Congress. He carries several copies that run for $15, and he hopes to produce more collections in the future. So far he estimates that he has sold 75 copies.

McCargo will be at the South Boston Public Library to hold a poetry reading on Aug. 22.





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