Matthew Baker: A Pittsburgh native who enjoys sad singer/songwriter music sometimes but not all times. Recently Matthew was accepted to the MFA program at the University of Nevada, Reno, so he’ll be moving come August. However, according to Matthew, his heart will always dwell in the cloudy climes of Appalachia.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Matthew’s serpentine-like poetry. Anyone who reads his work won’t be able to prevent her/himself from sliding into the rhythm of the lines. I especially enjoyed reading Matthew’s thoughtful responses to the questions I sent him on his life as a writer (as though any of us can separate the writer-side from any other parts of ourselves!). I hope you enjoy reading too–both this and the Spring 2015 issue.
1. What does your writing space usually look like?
A: My writing space is different every time I write. Sometimes I write in bed, sometimes I write in my car while I’m on break at work, and when I wrote the poems you’re so graciously publishing, I was actually sitting at my kitchen table. The thing that all of these places have in common, though, is that they are usually a bit messy. My bed is usually unmade and because I’m really lazy, there are usually clothes lying around. My car isn’t that messy, but I have a bunch of reusable bags lying in the backseat. And my kitchen table was full of my laptop, a plate from something I ate, and I think there was another reusable bag on it, too. I guess the point is that I could probably write anywhere as long as I have my mind set on it.
2. If you could be any author/poet, present or past, which author/poet would you be and why?
A: Oh, gosh, I would totally want to be Anne Sexton. She is the first poet to whom I really connected. I first read her when I was in college, I think the first poem of hers I read was “Her Kind”. I really liked how honest she was, and not that no one else at her time was writing confessional poetry, but I was thrilled by how surreal her poems seemed. My own poetry isn’t really as dark as hers, and I have a completely different home life, but I try to emulate that dreamlike environment she was so good at creating when I write my own pieces. I also like how easy it seemed for her to use form and free verse. Most of her poems have either a rhyme scheme or a meter to them, and she wasn’t classically trained in poetry! I guess I just really admire how she did it.
3. If you could have personally witnessed anything, what would you want to have seen?
A: Probably the first moon landing. I am completely enthralled by space and the future of humanity in space. I like science fiction, and I would totally want to be a space explorer. The entire process of going into space and then exploring something unexplored is really exciting, and if I were able to go back to that first moon landing and share those feelings with the astronauts and everyone involved, I’d feel pretty special.
4. What question do you hate to answer and why?
A: Hmm. I don’t know. I have never really been asked questions about my writing. Probably what I dislike being asked when I’m at work (which is in a bookstore) is “Do you have any copies of Fifty Shades of Grey?” I think that book is atrocious, and I’m totally behind everyone online that references the things that happen in Fifty Shades to abuse. Mostly, I’m just really fed up with having to smile at people when they buy really awful books. That something like Fifty Shades of Grey can be published and earn so much money but be completely devoid of meaning angers me. There are so many people trying to write things that actually matter, that explore human consciousness, help people learn things, and to see people interested in abusive erotica is a huge downer. But! I can’t judge too harshly, I like a lot of weird stuff, too.
5. What is your least favorite word?
A: Led, the past tense of lead. Sometimes I’ll go to use it but never be sure if it is spelled with or without the a, so I just change what I was going to write entirely. It’s annoying.
6. Is there any particular work, place, person that inspires your writing?
A: Right now I’m really fond of Dean Young. One of my professors recommended that I read his stuff because it is quirky and really surreal, which is how I’m trying to write things. I like the way he uses similar sounds in the same line so that even if you’re just reading his poems in your head, you get this really fun rhythm going. I’d recommend his collection Elegy on Toy Piano. Probably my favorite place to get inspiration from, though, is this really cool trail near my house. It’s called the Montour Trail, and it stretches for miles around the city of Pittsburgh, but I only go on a few miles near my house. The trail used to be an old railroad, so there are some cool tunnels and bridges. The one tunnel near my house has a bunch of graffiti from couples that passed through and then some other people that have done some more complicated art. It’s just nice walking along being quiet.
7. Where did the title “Elephantine” come from? Is the title related to the vastness that is the world and everything in it? Did I just unintentionally ask you a leading question?
A: Haha! I honestly hadn’t really though of the title until you asked me this question. Sometimes when I write, I won’t come up with a title until I’m finished with the piece because I tend to just start free-writing and hope something sticks. With this poem, I definitely think you have the right idea. It’s not a title that refers to anything specific in the piece, it more refers to the structure of the sentences: little punctuation, run-on thoughts, just all over the place. I think my mind was in an elephantine place when I wrote the poem, too. I was recently accepted to an MFA program across the country, so I’ve been thinking a lot about my life and moving it out west, what I want to get out of the program, and just the future. All of that seems really big, and this poem, though it doesn’t really seem to be about anything in particular, kind of symbolizes that for me.
Matthew’s advice to present and future fellow writers:
I don’t really know if I have any stories or advice, really. I work in retail, so my schedule is never quite the same each week, which means I can’t really keep a definite schedule for writing. What I do instead is just carry a notebook around with me most places I go or have my phone to take a picture of something I like. If I get an idea, I’ll have my notebook to jot it down. I try to write whenever I’m feeling inspired, so, unfortunately, that means sometimes I write at weird hours of the night. It’s a compulsion, I guess. If I were to make this story into some sort of advice, I would say this: write what you’re feeling whenever you’re feeling it. I spent a lot of time trying to make things up, so a lot of my earlier writing is pretty stiff. It took me a while to just write whatever, and if it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, it’s bad. Just keep writing. Or creating. Whatever it is that you like to do.