Wednesday, February 12, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Matwichuk

Laura Matwichuk’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada and the US and twice in The Best Canadian Poetry in English. She was a finalist for the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and shortlisted for Arc Poetry Magazine’s Poem of the Year. Her debut collection, Near Miss, was published by Nightwood Editions in Spring 2019. She lives in Vancouver.  

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My book, Near Miss, came out this past spring. Now I've accomplished the thing I always wanted to - that's a big emotional shift. Knowing a lot of very talented writers, as I do, can make it seem normal to publish books and win awards, but writing even one book is incredibly special and rare! I'm trying not to move on from that feeling too quickly. In terms of recent work, I think my poems are slowly becoming more personal and confident.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
There was no question - poetry is everything to me. I don't want to branch out. I will never write a novel.

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?
Some poems live in my head for a long time, writing themselves through my thoughts - when I sit down to write, they come out fully formed and require little editing. It is much more common, however, for the poems to take an incredible amount of revision and hard work - I love these ones most, the ones I've nearly given up on that finally click into place. I think the timing for has to be right - there are things I am not ready to write about yet, but can imagine writing 10 or 20 years from now, and that excites me - they'll be that much better for the life lived in-between. Growing old is a wonderful thing when you're a poet.

4 - Where does a poem 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?
I think that most of my poems begin with a desire to hold on to a feeling, and then to consider why it might be meaningful or interesting. I ask myself, Why this? What is at stake? Anxiety became the central theme of Near Miss because that's what I was feeling at the time. Becoming aware of that led me to a particular structure for the book. The poems I'm working on now also keep circling around two themes, telling me there's something there. I'm getting a sense of the book I hope they will become.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
For me, readings resurrect childhood feelings of math tests or piano recitals. I have immense anxiety before every reading and a deep feeling of relief and lightness when the reading is over! I like to be invisible as much as possible, so it's hard to have people look at me while I read my poems. However, I have done more readings this year than ever before, to audiences of all sizes, and with lovely, supportive readers and hosts - all that has helped to normalize it for me a bit. It's silly,'s good to remember that most people are not thinking about you. No one cares if you stumble over your words at a poetry reading - literally no one. 

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?
I feel like my poems always stop working when I become too concerned with the "aboutness" of them. I should never set out to write a poem about any object or subject - it will definitely be a bad, boring poem. I think it is better when the concerns rise through the language to the surface on their own, without so much deliberateness, when I'm able to focus just on choosing each word with precision and care. I usually realize after writing 10 or 20 poems that the deep concerns tying them together are right there, I didn't have to force 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?
Maybe it is to observe and then articulate those observations in a personal way? I think of Zadie Smith's essays and what they do for me as a reader, how they meaningfully shift the way I look at the world through precise observations that could be articulated by no one but her - she's a genius.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I think being a writer takes a lot of confidence, you need to be sure of yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. Then working with an editor can be very productive. Editing is all about discarding the dead weight of the past, and I love that! It's about agreeing to make the writing the best it can be.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In Lydia Davis' "Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits," she says: "Be mostly self-taught. There is a great deal to be learned from programs, courses, and teachers. But I suggest working equally hard, throughout your life, at learning new things on your own, from whatever sources seem most useful to you." As someone who hates advice, this is great advice.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't really have one, to be honest! I wrote almost all of my first book during my lunch break at work. Aside from when I went to Banff in 2013, I've never had “reserved” time for writing (though Banff gave me a glimpse of how nice that must be!), so I've gotten very good at being productive in 10-15 minute increments - I can focus very quickly. I also write a lot in my head while walking and listening to music, stopping to make notes on my phone - I got into the habit of doing this when I was on mat leave and my son would only nap in his stroller - walking became a big part of my daily life and writing process. So I've kept that up. With any luck, some of the notes I take while walking become poems! : )

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Conversations with fellow writers, research, outer space, music, walks, fresh air all pull me back into the poems. I also like to think about the cosmic calendar ("A human life only lasts for the blink of an eye") to keep everything in perspective.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Wet leaves. 

13 - 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?
All of the above, and perhaps especially visual art because I studied art history in university - I think that influence is still there, informing the way I think about poetry and some of my writing habits. 

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Lydia Davis, Mary Ruefle, Louise Gluck, Karen Solie, Anne Carson, Zadie Smith, Rachel Zucker, Matthew Zapruder, Dean Young. And all the poets and writers I'm fortunate to call friends.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? 
Travel to Scotland, Iceland and Japan.

16 - 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 studied classical piano for many years and wish I'd had the talent and discipline to make it a career. I would also have loved to study film, to write books about film or work in film preservation/restoration. 

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I've definitely done much more "something else" than writing. I wrote poems when I was young, but never thought they were good enough. I put poetry aside for more than a decade and studied art history. After finishing my master's, I felt lost and began to write poems again. Here I am, nearly 40, with my first book.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Amy Fung's Before I was a Critic I was a Human Being and Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir.

19 - What are you currently working on?

One long poem and a few short ones.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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