“Silence holds all things: A Conversation with Poet & Physician Matthew Mumber” – curated by Kristina Marie Darling

Matthew Mumber, M.D., practices medicine as a board-certified radiation oncologist with the Harbin Clinic in Rome. After entering private practice, Matt attended and graduated from Dr. Andrew Weil’s fellowship in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona, where he met Rachel Remen and attended trainings on facilitation of physician-patient retreat groups through Commonweal. Subsequently, Matt attended and graduated from a 2-year program on spirituality at the Living School for Action and Contemplation through the Rohr Institute, where he studied with Jim Finley. An author of academic and lay press texts on the subject of healing, Matt has edited an academic textbook entitled Integrative Oncology: Principles and Practice  and also co-wrote a lay-press health and wellness book, Sustainable Wellness with Heather Reed. He has served as the president of the Georgia Society of Clinical Oncology.

Matt’s poetry, which draws on his personal, professional, cultural and natural-world experiences, stems from his lectio divina meditation and spiritual practice. Matt has facilitated groups and retreats focused on transformation and healing for over twenty years.

He lives in Georgia with his wife and three sons.


Kristina Marie Darling:  What are three things you’d like readers to know before they delve into The Awakening Season?

Matthew Mumber:  

  1. You are unique in all of the infinity of existence. There will never be another you.
  2. Your specific life and experiences can serve as a way to connect at depth to all of creation. 
  3. The process of healing is difficult and necessary work.  It can be energizing and enjoyable. 

KMD:  Your poems are gorgeously understated.  I admire the way you invite silence to inhabit your work, whether in the form of elisions, white space, or mystery on the level of storytelling.  Can you speak to the work that silence can do in a poem or a book-length collection?

MM:  In my experience, silence holds all things. It is a support structure that can be trusted and it has infinite depth. Its scope ensures that anything that ever comes into existence can be held safely. Silence can never be overwhelmed. When I am writing or reading poetry, often the immensity of what the work brings up in the present moment can be difficult to hold.  When this happens, I purposefully invite silence to attend to what is going on within me, and try to listen to where it fits in the most.   

KMD:  I’m sure our readers would love to hear more about your meditation practice and the ways in which the principles of transformation and healing inform your writing.  In what ways are seemingly small stylistic choices in poetry — whether on the level of imagery, lineation, structure, or musicality — spiritually rich?

MM:  My meditation practice has evolved over time through many techniques, personal experiences and guidance from teachers.  I feel that meditation is a balance between knowing and not knowing. There is a corresponding part of the poem that is the part that knows—this is the structural format.  This structural part creates a stage for the not knowing to take place. Images and music step in to help bring the reader into the author’s state of experience in such a way that it can become an experience for the reader. The vulnerability of not knowing shines through to allow the reader to see things from his or her own perspective in a way that deepens an individual’s experience of life. This new way of seeing happens through the author’s words, as well as through the space between the words.  In much the same way, meditation practice has forged me over time in mysterious ways.  

KMD:  In addition to your achievements as a poet, you are also a physician.  What has your work, experience, and knowledge outside the realm of poetry opened up within your creative practice? 

MM:  The practice of cancer medicine is a constant reminder of the fragility of the connection to my patients on a level of our shared humanity. The practice of being present and open to attend to the sufferings and joys of another is similar to the way of the poet. As a poet, I try to remove as many obstacles as I can that might prevent me from being touched, inspired, surprised or moved. When I am moved, I then try to translate that into words that create a place in which transformation is possible. Transformation as a new way of seeing and being cannot be imposed upon another, and it cannot be programmed. It can be facilitated. 

KMD:  What advice do you have for writers who may be working outside of academia and the arts professions, and who aspire to build an audience for their poetry? 

MM:  Rachael Naomi Remen, a mentor, once gave me some advice when I was trying to create an organization based on transformation and healing that would serve my fellow physicians and patients. She said “start small and grow organically.”  This applies nicely to building an audience one person at a time.  Then another maxim that comes to mind: Show up. Speak your truth. Let go of outcomes.  

KMD:  What’s next?  What can readers look forward to? 

MM:  I am currently working on my next poetry compilation, which has a focus on the practice of medicine and the depths of the healing process between and doctor and patient, within themselves and in society and the natural world.  I plan to continue my poetry writing practice, as it is a wonderful creative outlet that keeps me balanced.