Matthew Walsh is a poet/writer from Nova Scotia. Recent work in The Malahat Review and new book with Icehouse Poetry: These are not the potatoes of my youth.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t know how my first chapbook changed my life. I remember feeling a bit more confident about my writing and feeling totally amazed that someone wanted to publish my poems into a chapbook. I never expected I would even be able to write at all because I feel like I am working all the time but I`m in a place now where I just make time for it, even if it’s four in the morning.
I feel like I can’t compare my old work and my new work. The voice is different for sure, and I have more fun writing than I did in the past, because poems don’t always have to be serious to be sincere and insightful, they can be funny and go in different directions.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I just like fragments. Sometimes my poems are inspired by an image or something I heard someone say, or a text a friend has sent me. I started writing a poem because I was thinking of the snails that used to love this wild rhubarb that grew in the backyard. I think seeing the snails go into themselves was how I realized it’s okay to go into myself, and why I like reading and writing so much. I find fiction so tough, and even if I wrote a fiction it wouldn’t be this straight-forward fiction book. I have wrote some non-fiction but I am not sharing that any time soon!
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I`m working on a book right now. It’s like forty poems. I carry them around every where I go and days go by before I look at them—but I carry them everywhere. I carry a purple notebook everywhere. Sometimes I take the poems out of my bag and I hang them all over my bedroom and I look at them like they are gems or crystals with a lot of sides and angles that catch the light when I hold the paper to my face. First drafts are rough, and I made notes and things on the margins of the page, and when I am ready, I sit down and push through a new draft, and carry that around in a bag while I walk around the city.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
It depends. I don’t like to think about structure or what a thing is going to be. I`m writing two poems now and I just see them as poems and not a part of anything. I might put them in the new thing I am working on or they might end up in a drawer. I like long poems as long as I feel the vibe and sounds are there. I don’t usually write short poems, but it depends on what you see as I short poem, I guess.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I am so nervous but I do like readings. I feel like they fly by so fast. I currently have to so a few readings here and there and I am just trying to enjoy the experience without the nerves getting to me. I use comedy to put myself at ease. I like making fun of myself, and I like to laugh. All these things help me relax. I think they can be part of a creative process because you are hearing your poem out loud, and hearing the sounds, and people will come up to you and tell you it was just ok, or they loved it, or that you need to work on your delivery, and all that can be helpful.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Right now I am just writing but I`m seeing little things pop up that have a relation to one another. I don’t really go in with a theoretical concern, I don’t think. I`m currently just exploring my own ideas around poetry and queerness and being gay and landlord problems and massive break-ups and things like that. I guess my concern is modern life and how to live in it.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The role of the writer is to write what they see and experience, and to write what they want to write in ways that can help illuminate the problems and good things that are happening in the world. I feel like every writer has a role, but it’s different for everyone. I still don’t know what my role is, maybe it develops over time. I`m still figuring that stuff out and it’s okay if I never figure out what my role is. I have tons of role models, though.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I had a great time with everyone who helped me with my book. There are many people who made my book possible and I will always remember them. I didn’t have any problems, it was a good exchange of ideas and in a lot of ways I followed their lead while still staying true to myself and what I wanted out of the book. Sheryda Warrener was a great editor to work with because she really helped me come out of my shell and develop something I was really happy with.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Oh my god. I have heard so much advice over the years. I guess though it must have came from Priscila Uppal who I had as an undergrad poetry teacher at York University. She told us to never compare your writing career to the career of others, because in the end you will all have different writing experiences, opportunities, and very different writing careers. She also laid out the math about how much you could expect to make as a writer—and reinforced the idea that you write books because you love writing books and not for the paychecks.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I only write poems nowadays. I have published a few short stories and I have written a lot of short stories, but I don’t jump back and forth between genres as much as I did in the past.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
My typical day I wake up, go to work for eight hours, and then go for a walk around the city, or to meet a friend in Kensington Market. On my days off I go for long walks and take picture of everything I think is interesting. Sometimes a poem comes out of that day, sometimes it doesn’t. But I come home satisfied that I have seen that much of the world and I feel happy because I got exercise.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I just start working a ton of seeing movies, or going out and doing things. I still have my poems and purple notebook on me in case something clicks for me. I just tend to read a lot and lay around a lot thinking.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of low tide and seaweed. Wet woods. The smell of baby cats.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
High Park, Kensington Market, antique shops, people talking in bars, graffiti on a bathroom wall, friends, birth charts, old encyclopedias, Funk & Wagnalls, store fronts.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Short stories by Joy Williams, Hellgoing by Lynn Coady, the writing on Baroness Von Sketch Show, poetry by Max Rivto, Louise Gluck (especially the poem Horse and Rider) Karen Solie poems. I like read Wide Sargasso Sea every year it seems. Music, cartoons, How Should a Person Be? By Sheila Heti.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Europe and never come back.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I like helping people. Social Work, or looking after animals. I like being a barista, I like interacting with the public. I`m always going to be doing something like that while I am a writer because apparently you have to make money to live.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I have always been a carrier of notebooks. Even when I was five I would just write everyone’s phone number into a notebook. I would act out soap operas with a pack of markers and each marker would have a name and would be a character, so as a kid I was always into having a notebook and using writing tools to tell stories I just wasn’t writing stories. I used to read a lot of Christopher Pike and Fear Street so as a kid I would write my own stories based on my own characters and keep them in a Duo-Tang and use all the loose leaf my mom had bought for school. I so was always into writing as something I would do.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book that I read was The Final Voicemails by Max Ritvo.
The last great film was Halloween 2018 with Judy Greer.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a book about homophobia and internalized homophobia and how critical we are about our bodies, and cool-sculpting, living alone, and a man who arrived at a gay bar with shiny black dress shoes and a single rose.