Matt Mitchell is a cardinal chaser born in the rust of Northern Appalachia and now double-parked in Columbus, OH. He’s got work now or soon in Hobart, The Missouri Review, The Boiler, Bat City Review, and others. He wrote The Neon Hollywood Cowboy (Big Lucks, 2021) and tweets @matt_mitchell48.
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?
The Neon Hollywood Cowboy gave me the space to air my dirty laundry, and by dirty laundry I mean my broken body. I’ve been calling the book a diary, of sorts. I used the space to originally just slap a bunch of different poems together, and then it became a venue for more thematic work, and that’s what the final version ended up being. I’ve moved to writing more about future things, like having kids and getting married, and it’s all much more imagery-heavy. Lots of prettier words. It’s weird, to say the least. But I wouldn’t have felt, I don’t know, allowed, I guess, to write what I’m writing now without first finishing tNHC.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually wanted to be an essayist first, and still very much do. But I’ve never been drawn to an art medium in the way I’m drawn to poetry. The opportunity to tell a complete story in such a small vessel, I think that’s lovely. I came to it through the Beats, like a lot of Rust Belt writers tend to nowadays, but then I found contemporary stuff, which I discovered I vibed with much more than anything else.
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?
People I’m close with like to joke about my writing output, because, I guess, it does look like I am working on many things at once. And sometimes I am. But tNHC took over 3 years to complete in poetic form, and much longer mentally. There have been a few first-draft poems that felt finished, because sometimes you do nail it early. But I like to edit a lot, and I’m learning to keep editing and never say something is completely done. I think when you say a poem is totally finished, you are almost admitting that there is nothing left to be discovered in the poem.
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 like to imagine everything I write will be in a book at some point. It helps keep me motivated. But I don’t think writers need to only write with the intent of all of it becoming part of a book someday. Everybody is different. I never start a poem from the beginning. It’s almost always writing individual lines down in my notes app at random parts of the day and then trying to construct a narrative around them. I usually write my ending first, too—in any genre I’m working out of. Probably because I’m terrified of what my own ending will be.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I have a love/hate relationship with public readings, so they aren’t a part of my process. On one hand, I love going to them. Especially if my friends are the ones reading. And on the other side of the spectrum, I have severe performance anxiety—and just bad anxiety in general—that hinders my ability to read publicly. But my main reason I do not participate in live readings is because of how inaccessible they are for disabled audience members. Even most virtual readings are inaccessible. Of course, there are outliers. Some virtual reading venues are shelling out the funds to hire ASL interpreters or are doing live captioning. But, if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that 95% of the literary world does not seem to give a damn about the disabled community. It took a lot of frustrated tweets from a good handful of people just to get others to start captioning their 2-minute-long poetry videos on Twitter in the spring. When my own literary friends were running a reading series during the pandemic, getting them to caption videos felt like pulling teeth. Sometimes I had to caption them myself. So I hope venues become accessible and start considering disabled folks when planning readings, or even have disabled folks help plan those readings.
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?
All of the questions I’m trying to answer in my book are purely personal but also publicly on display. But my poetry, at large, is aimed at deconstructing masculinity in whatever unconventional ways I can—currently it’s the breakdown of masculinity that’s rooted in my Appalachian ancestry.
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?
There are very few jobs in this world that don’t include writing as some kind of component. So, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to say the majority of the population are writers. They’re everywhere. If a writer is to have a role, it should be to diligently record the unfolding of their world, with integrity and honesty.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. Though, I know I can be a pain to work with, especially when it comes to making book covers. But when it comes to writing, you have to be your own worst critic, but you also have to understand that having a 2nd or 3rd or 4th set of eyes on your work will only benefit your process.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
A college professor once told me many times that writer’s block doesn’t actually exist, and maybe they were right.
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?
The only writing routine I’ve ever kept true to is writing at night. All of my poetry gets written and edited between midnight at 4 AM. I’m very much a night owl, and I can’t shake it.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I put on my 60s Country Essentials playlist or draw pictures or sometimes both!
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Is gasoline leaking from the engine of a torn-apart tractor onto a garage floor a fragrance?
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?
tNHC is a book but also a movie inspired by movies, music, television, and Coca-Cola. So I guess most of my work stems from whatever kind of popular culture vehicle is conveniently sitting next to me at any given moment.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Gabrielle Grace Hogan, the story of The Last of Us series, Red Dead Redemption, Kevin Latimer, Nick Shoulders, every dog I pass on the sidewalk, “Borderline” by Madonna, mouth harps, and old high school yearbooks.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to climb a mountain with everyone once we can climb mountains again.
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’d love to try glass blowing, but, like, making bottles for perfume companies. I’m obsessed with that. If I wasn’t a writer, I know I would be an elementary reading teacher like my mom. Or an astronaut. Or one of those people who test different dipping sauces for chicken nuggets in food science labs.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Well, I don’t think I’m too good at much else, unfortunately.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Taylor Johnson’s Inheritance was a great book. Haven’t watched a new movie in a few months, but the Night Stalker docu-series on Netflix was pretty good.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A sequel to The Neon Hollywood Cowboy, tentatively called The Adventures of Cosmic Cowboy and Blondie right now.
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