The Catholic University of America

Matthew Buckley Smith

A Poet Finds His Way To The Stage

The smell of rain that night on old cement
Comes back to me, unlike the night, which can’t,
We raced downtown past colds we should have caught
To see some place our friend had bragged about

— from Matthew Buckley Smith’s “The Open House”

Matthew Buckley Smith takes what he sees and turns it into poetry.

Now he is taking what he sees and bringing it to the stage.

A Master of Fine Arts playwriting candidate, Smith starts his final year at Catholic University this coming fall. A published poet, he’s already earned an M.F.A. in poetry at The Johns Hopkins University.

He is the winner of the 2011 Able Muse Book Award for his manuscript "Dirge for an Imaginary World," published by Able Muse Press. His poems have appeared in magazines including Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, Iron Horse Literary Review, Measure, The Alabama Literary Review, Think Journal, and Best American Poetry. Additionally, his poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and featured on Verse Daily. Links to his book and some of his poems can be found on his website

So with all this in his life, why choose playwriting at Catholic University? “I knew I would be in the area,” Smith said, because his wife, Joanna, was set to start a medical residency in Baltimore. She heard CUA had a good playwriting program and told him about it.

Then his friend, Ryan Wilson, made him a deal — Smith would apply to the playwriting program and Wilson to the English Ph.D. program. Both were accepted. And his friend? “Now he’s happily in English studies,” he said.

“It’s been great,” Smith said of his time at CUA. Doing much of his writing at home “is kind of lonely,” though, so the trip from his home in Baltimore to Washington takes him from relative solitude to the hustle of CUA’s campus. His teachers and classes have been useful “in actual practice, a production-versus-theory” way. “CUA is practical-minded,” he added.

He has written several plays as part of the exacting curriculum of the M.F.A. program — a play a semester, at least. In fact, he’s now working on three plays concurrently, as well as his thesis play “Spooky Action at a Distance,” which is scheduled for CUA’s stage in February.

His long-term goals include remaining fully involved in the writing life, as well as continuing his study of poetry, and teaching writing to young students — he currently teaches British and world literature at Kirov Academy of Ballet near the CUA campus and has worked as an adjunct writing instructor at Towson University and Johns Hopkins. Writing and producing in the theater are on the top of his list, he said. “I want to work as much as I can.”

Smith said he particularly enjoys “verse” plays, in which dialogue is written in a metrical fashion. Many of the plays of William Shakespeare, who was also a poet, are written this way. Poetry writing and playwriting “are two different modes of writing,” he said. But while he’s hard at work on scripts at the present, poetry remains important to him, as it provides a welcome break from his studies. “Poetry allows for a change.”

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Matthew Buckley Smith

Hometown: Baltimore

Major: Playwriting

Favorite poets: Lately, William Yeats and Alfred Housman.

Favorite playwright: Harold Pinter is one of them.

Best experience at CUA: I liked working in the costume shop.

Advice to emerging young writers: Read more than you write, write more than you publish.