William Matthews's poetry has earned him a reputation as a master of well-turned phrases, wise sayings, and rich metaphors. Much of Matthews's poetry explores the themes of life cycles, the passage of time, and the nature of human consciousness. In another type of poem, he focuses on his particular enthusiasms: jazz music, basketball, and his children. His early writing was free-form and epigrammatic. As his career has progressed, he has adopted a more formal structure and garnered growing praise. A couple of his poems have been likened to "deep image" poems, which allow one strong image to dominate each poem and to evoke many strong feelings and associations. Writing in the Bloomsbury Review, Christopher Merrill identified Matthews as "one of our most alert and engaging poets."