This is Matt’s second appearance in our pages and I hope we see more of him here. He’s a poet, teacher and speaker and I believe he’s someone to watch. On February 27, his second poetry collection, Raven Wire (Shanti Arts Publishing) will launch at Bay Shore, Long Island, New York. For those living in that area, the details are HERE.
Two of Matt’s poems are featured in the last issue of the zine. His work is refined, ambitious and precise. It exposes an intimacy with mythology, history, music and literature as well as a keen eye and ear for the complexities and pains of our post-modern times.
Matt demonstrates a sensitivity to the moral responsibilities of the artist and all human beings and an appreciation of social insults and human frailty that is intelligent and compassionate and able to be transformed by beauty. His work is not trite or cheapened by sensationalism or voyeurism. It invites one to read and reread to fully appreciate it.
The name of the book is a reference to the Norse god Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, thought and memory. The collection is divided into two sections, one for each category.
So … artists, I humbly submit, in addition to craft and toil, [we must] maintain a vigorous and sacred practice of Listening, becoming a receptacle that extends into the universe, hoping to return with something true. It is not Odin‘s ring, spear, or death-defying feats I wish to spotlight here, but his practice, our tether as humans seeking compassion and connection, wonder and wisdom…” Matt Pasca, Raven Wire
JAMIE: What first drew you to poetry at age eleven?
MATT: I was never much of a talker. I spent lots of time alone as a kid—just my hyper-awareness and a constant hailstorm of words banging off the windshield of my consciousness. Before writing, my only relief from the intensity of life’s stimuli was music. Then, yes, at 11, I discovered a word processing program on the Commodore 64 called Easy Script and fell immediately and unimpeachably in love with the process of making external what had been entirely internal. Not to be dramatic but it felt, as I typed, as if I were writing myself into existence—calmly, honestly and courageously, without shame or judgment or raised voices. Absolute freedom. I was hooked. As years passed and my process evolved, I learned how to hover while the external and internal intertwined and became not only transfixed by these conversations but spurred on to render them with potency.
As for the genre itself, I was around poetry often as a boy, but didn’t take much of a liking to it. I avoided it out of a sense of distaste and saturation, seeking out short stories and non-fiction instead. I remember thinking, “If there is James Baldwin in the world, why bother with poetry?” Even in Kenneth McClane’s wonderful verse-writing course at Cornell, I found poetry composition an arduous and frustrating endeavor. At some point in my late 20s, poetry suddenly “clicked” with me. It became all I wanted to write or read.
JAMIE: As you matured, what surprised you about poetry as both writer and reader?
MATT: In some ways, I think poetry finally “clicked” for me as an outgrowth of my passion for cinema. I had always loved the experience of being in a theatre, dreaming while awake—it felt familiar. When I became a trained projectionist at Cornell Cinema, the flames of my passion for film were mightily fanned. I spent countless nights up in that booth, mesmerized. I decided to sign up for a film class and was lucky enough to have the late Don Fredericksen as my professor. One day he taught a lesson on cinema’s early experimental filmmakers who said to hell with filming stage plays, let’s use this new technology to create something ONLY the film camera can do! During this lesson, we watched Leger’s Ballet Mecanique, a brief 15 minute film that capitalized on the basic principle that a huge screen and a zoom lens could create instant and utter defamiliarization. This made so much sense to me, and reminded me of how I had perceived the world even as a child: intensely, fragmentedly, impressionistically, with a different aperture and at a different speed. Poetry, in turn, more than any other genre, seemed perfectly equipped to provide me with Leger-like shortcuts to the creation of/expression of defamiliarized perception. I began to chase this as both as a writer and reader – the isolation of the familiar in a way that reframes and challenges, both artistically and emotionally. And me, with my long, detail-oriented attention span (perfect for both cinema and poetry), I do enjoy the infamously laborious process of sculpting a single page of defamiliarizing verse.
JAMIE: Your interests are quite diverse. They appear to me to influence your language and bring a multi-layered perspective to your poetry. Russian. Africana studies. Gospel music. Sports and travel. How do they move into your poetry?
MATT: I credit my family for fostering in me not only an aversion to rigid thinking but a relentless pursuit of others’ points of view. I was exposed, as a kid, to people from countries all over the world—ate their food, heard their accents, wanted to memorize the contours and colors of their flags. The more foreign a thing was to me, the more interesting it became; the more misunderstood a thing was by my more homogenous Long Island surroundings, the more sense it made to me; the more marginalized, the more attractive. Diversity is the hallmark of my cellular structure and every pursuit I undertake consists of new and dissimilar information. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to grab on to what I do not know and absorb it, walk around inside of it and get to know how it feels. A poet-friend of mine, Steven T. Licardi, writes in a poem about life on the autism spectrum, “Even numbers have feelings,” and I so get that. Everything seems to be alive and vibrating. As a word-lover/wordsmith, I find I want to upload every activity or subculture’s “lexical field”, to the point where a single new word or detail can trigger an entire poem. The interests I have stuck with the longest—baseball, social justice, music, travel—are also a kind of spiritual chiropractic; they align my rhythms and spaces and prepare me for poetry’s entry and excavation.
JAMIE: I think a lot of my readers will be interested to know how you carve out time for creativity with job, marriage, children, social commitments and so forth. What can you share with them that will assist them in their own work?
MATT: My wife (author Terri Muuss) and I get this question a lot and I have a few answers that may be of some use. First and foremost, my marriage is the engine that drives everything else, just as in a plane, car, ship or train. If you take care of your engine, make sure it fires on all cylinders, there is no telling what you can accomplish. (Astrologically inclined friends would say it’s because she is a Capricorn and I am a Taurus and, despite being wildly creative, neither one of us likes to be un-grounded or unorganized. Guilty as charged.) ☺ So back to the question—since, for both of us, parenting and job and marriage are non-negotiables, where do we find the time to run workshops, perform, curate, edit and write?
The simple answer, and my second point, is that we use what time we have rather than ruing its deficient quantity. We write in stolen moments at work, taking off in a plane, speaking into our phones while stopped at red lights, during faculty meetings. Once you start waiting for “enough time”, or the “right kind of time” to create, you are dead in the water. It simply won’t happen, unless you are willing to sacrifice your relationships or professional standing. Naturally, these stolen moments must be attended by some ongoing and suspended organizational system (i.e., somewhere to store the scraps and composted bits until there is time to assemble them)—that is what Dropbox, IClouds or folders are for. ☺
Thirdly, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a word about process. If one has only stolen moments here and there that require immediate generation and organization, one must be coherent and focused, with a writing process that precludes writers’ block or any notions of perfectionism. This tends to also preclude drinking and/or drugging, neither of which my wife and I do. There is no judgment in this, just a fact that does influence our ability to get so much done in so little available time. Rather than subscribe to the archetypal “artist mystique” involving inebriation and inordinate drama, we believe more can be accomplished creatively and perceptively when one stands in the honest space of clarity and fullness or brokenness, whichever is ascendant in the moment. It is hard not to get in one’s own way, but it’s awfully important to try. ☺
JAMIE: Our mutual friend, Michael Dickel, said in his interview that the job of a poet is to bear witness. You write in a different frame, so what to you is the poet’s job? What is the poet’s social and artistic responsibility?
MATT: Well I would agree whole-heartedly with Michael and posit, further, that there is no “other frame” than bearing witness in poetry. To the casual observer, there is ostensibly socio-political poetry and its more internal-leaning counterpart, but I don’t find this dichotomy convincing. No. A good poet friend of mine, Veronica Golos, once said in a Q&A, when asked, “Do you set out to write political poetry?” that she believed all poetry is political. I agree with her. The very paradigm of our individual perception at any given time is what creates our sense of reality as well as our response to it. Even bearing witness to how we witness is political.
At the micro level, how we learn to honor complexity and timelessness in an age bent on thumbs up/thumbs down exigencies and disposabilities is, ultimately, political. My hero in so many ways, James Baldwin, said, “One must know what is happening around them in order to know what is happening to them.” No, not everyone finds their way from the specific to the general, from the micro to the macro, but I believe deeply that peace begins with a more robust, nuanced and empathic perception that begins at the molecular level. This is the job of the poet: to listen, notice, pan for truth, scrape for justice and undertake the alchemic sculpting of language and space to illuminate and, hopefully, heal. In my ongoing effort to cure myself of ignorance, I want each of my poems to act as a dissertation highlighting and easing humanity’s tragic miscalculations.
review portion, Jamie Dedes; © interview responses, photograph and cover art, Matt Pasca, All rights reserved