Saturday, July 26, 2008

Matthew Zapruder

The following interview is from the Chicago Postmodern Poetry website as seen on July 26, 2008. Here we have Matthew Zapruder talking about life, poetry and the pursuit of happiness.

General Questions
1) Where did you grow up? Was poetry and writing part of that mix?

I grew up outside of Washington D.C., with no poetry anywhere near me. I never really knew what a poem was, or thought about making them, until I had written a few without any idea what I was doing. It was a long process for me to shed the received idea that politics and business are what's really "important," and that art is primarily for decoration or entertainment or some kind of vague edification. It took me well into my 20's to even start thinking of myself as a poet, and not until I was in my 30's did I finally stop feeling as if I really should be doing something else. Now I can't imagine my life without poetry, making it and reading it: it seems like the one constant uncorruptible grace among many many of the world's failures.

2) Who are your poetic influences, favorite poets, writers, artwork, other things that inform your work?

I've always loved music, especially rock and roll: I can't help but think that the spirit and structure of The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Pavement, The Beatles, Guided By Voices, R.E.M., The Pixies, Neil Young, Public Enemy, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, The Jam, Leonard Cohen, Will Oldham, Nick Drake, Nirvana, and all the other ways that I first and most often experienced the arrangement of words into something more than useful communication packages has influenced me more than anything else. Lately I listen to a ton of Wilco, Guided by Voices, Nina Nastasia, Vic Chesnutt, and Built to Spill, just to name a few. I think that the more confident I get as a poet, the more I'm able to incorporate the spirit of the music I love in an organic way into my poems, as opposed to just indie rock name dropping.
I've also been a musician for a long time -- I play lead guitar in a couple of bands, and love to contribute directly and without much conversation to the songs of writers I really respect (specifically Thane Thomsen of The Figments and Mark Mulcahy, formerly of Miracle Legion, now solo). When playing music, I think a lot about restraint, the primacy of the song, the relationship of the texture of the sounds coming out of the guitar to the notes I'm playing and the song in which they are appearing, and so on. I have no idea what that has to do with poetry, perhaps something.

Painting is another obsession, though I'm no expert. Right now I'm reading the journals of Eugene Delacroix. I'm particularly fascinated with artists like Cezanne, Kandinsky, and Van Gogh who operated on the borders between abstraction and representation. This seems profoundly related to poetry, which is a discipline that can never descend fully into abstraction or gesture, because words always (thankfully) mean something. I love to read what painters have to say about their work, as much as I like to look at their paintings (terrible, I know). I think that Van Gogh's letters are among the greatest works of literature ever written, and essential for artists, not to mention human beings.
3) When did you 'become' a poet, when did poet become part of your everyday life?
As I said, not until late. I began writing sporadically in my 20's, when I went to UC Berkeley to get a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures. I left after passing my exams and getting my Masters, in order to get an MFA in poetry at UMass Amherst. I suppose it was sometime during those years that I began to incorporate poetry into my everyday life, truly: the example of the poets James Tate and Dara Wier, who live poetry and let poetry live in them, was something it took me years to aspire to. Now I do the best I can.

I think when my first book came out, when I was 33, was when I finally felt comfortable calling myself a professional poet. Now I am revealed as the horrible bourgeois that I am.
4) How does your work with VERSE and your editing work effect your poetry?
I get to read a lot of amazing stuff, and also am exposed to a ton of crap. I think that I have learned the most from the relationships that I've developed with authors that we've published: some of them have become my best friends, and my everyday life as a poet is intimately intertwined with theirs. Often I think that's the biggest blessing that has come from starting Verse Press. Also, there is a terrific community of poets in Western Massachusetts (where the office of the press is: everyday operations are run by the poet Lori Shine, Managing Editor of the press), many of whom volunteer their time and energy without any compensation other than the occasional free book or pizza. I feel optimistic and happy when I'm around those folks, and see how much they care about poetry and the press: it makes me feel like we all have the ability to cultivate a little garden somewhere, and that not everything is tracts of fucked up commerce and bullshit.

5) What is your favorite food?
As a child I used to ask my mother to make meatloaf for me on my birthday every year, whether out of love for it or spite for my siblings I cannot say.

6) Sports Team? or Activity?
The Boston Red Sox, the San Francisco Baseball Giants, the Washington Redskins. Sports talk radio. Playing guitar. Reading graphic novels. Listening to a baseball game on the radio. Driving by myself.

7) Vacation spot?
I love going to Ljubljana (Slovenia) to visit my poet friends, I feel so marvelously central European and hopeful to drink tea and beer by the canals in a country where their main central square is dominated by a statue of a poet, Preserin.

8) Curse word?
Bitchcakes, as in "You really went bitchcakes on that poor guy, didn't you?"

Craft Questions
1) How do you form a poem? Is poetry and organic or synthetic process for you?
In some ways in my mind those two terms mean something opposite: that is, organic being natural, synthetic being artificial. In which case I would say both, that is I often put things together in a deliberately artificial way (through collage, out of found materials and from my own journals and thoughts), until it starts to feel organic. I guess I feel like a poem should feel organic, with all the energy and destabilization of something that is clearly synthetic.

On the other hand I also think of the two terms as being sort of the same: that is, they both are terms that are talking about the quality of how things are constructed, or have come to be. A poem is something that's of primary interest because it's a made object: someone made it, yet it feels like a part of everything that has always existed. So both again. Hmmm.

2) Where do you write? Is Ambiance important? Do you have rituals or habits when you write?
Sometimes I write in public places, like a cafe where there is talking and music, or someplace where there's a lot of movement. Other times I like to bang away on my manual typewriter (a Royal portable that belonged to my grandfather), because I love it as an object, in the same way that I love my guitars. So yes ambiance, rituals and habits are extremely important, mostly in terms of sound and texture, not visually: but I have a lot of them and am reasonably flexible about which ones I submit myself to, probably out of necessity, because I have an exceptionally peripatetic lifestyle.

3) In the balance between found language and created language where does your work fall?
Hopefully, in some graceful region. Some of my poems are composed entirely of found language (for instance, my new book The Pajamaist has a lot of correctly and incorrectly attributed song lyrics, phrases heard in conversation or on the radio, and even an entire poem made of lines and phrases from two horoscopes of a particular day from a Chicago newspaper). Others are constructed of language that I find from various writings that I've done over days, months, hours. I think of myself more and more as a collagist (is that a word?), and make very little distinction among the materials I feel like I need to use at any given moment. Mainly I'm just grateful for whatever gives me that electric feeling of hey, all right, now here's something that has poetry in it, now let's get to work.

Learn more about Matthew Zapruder. Learn more about Wave Poetry which is the press that sprung from Verse Press.

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