matt robinson lives in Halifax, NS, and works as a Residence Life Manager with Dalhousie University. Recent collections include ‘no cage contains a stare that well’ (ECW, 2005), a full-length volume of hockey poems, ‘A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking’, which was nominated for the Lampert and ReLit awards, ‘how we play at it: a list’, and ‘tracery & interplay’. His poems have appeared in anthologies such as The New Canon, Breathing Fire 2, Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada, Exact Fare Only 2, and Landmarks: An Anthology of New Atlantic Canadian Poetry of the Land. A new collection of poetry, ‘Against the Hard Angle’ is forthcoming in 2009.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
There was no specific ‘eureka’ moment, as far as I can remember. I just like, and have always been drawn to, the idea of expressing and exploring ideas and images and arguments through language.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
In the everyday. In what I see and hear and read and smell and notice as I live my life. That might be a great line in a book I’m reading, or a scene I walk past on the way to a coffee shop or to grab a slice of pizza. It might be something in a conversation I overhear. To my mind, poetry is very concerned with sensory perception and ideas. While I believe in the central nature / role of the idea and/or the argument in poetry (and in mnay ways I side with those who see poems as the exploration of an idea, or, more specifically, an argument), these very ideas and arguments need to be explored—as far as I am concerned—through metaphor in my poetics. I see metaphor as grounded in sensory (often concrete) experience, especially when it works well. The uxtaposition of abstractions and their use in poetry is futile for me when not grounded someway in the conrete. Access to the concrete is gained through the senses. So the absolute necessity of sensory perception—for me—in poetry / in my particular practice / poetics. I guess that speaks a bit to inspiration.
What is your writing process?
On the broadest of levels, for me, poetry is successful when it manages to engage: engage its lanaguge; engage the reader(s); engage ideas; engage something. Poetry needs to be ‘active’, be involved in an exchange of energy / energies (in the broadest possible sense). Configured another way, perhaps somewhat related, is this. Poetry for me, as a poet, an editor, and a reader is—at its core—about two central things. The ‘success’ of a poem or series of poems is directly related—for me—on how well the work ‘scores’ on two scales: 1. Idea and 2. Execution. For poetry to be successful the idea or concept that drives it, that’s at its core, needs to be solid / interesting / whatever. That, on its own, however, isn’t enough. That idea then needs to be put to work and honed. That’s the execution side of things. Some poems are good / great ideas, but less than ideally executed: they’re middling. Others are average ideas, but the execution is good / great. These are also middling, usually. The great poems—for me—score high on both scales. So my writing and revision process is attempt to score high on both ‘scales’ I’ve mentioned above. On a very basic level, that means jotting down some notes by hand, then eventually starting to work in a more concrete form (usually by typing thing out on a computer). After that I print off drafts and edit them by hand (making notes, etc.), make more changes and eventually end up with a draft that I like. At that point, I have to start reading the piece aloud to see if it sounds and scans the way I want it to. I find that’s the way I find out if a section seems awkward or stilted. I do want a kind of musicality in most poems. At the very least, I want the rhythm of the lines and language to be deliberate. Once it passes that ‘reading aloud’ test, we’re almost there. This all said, even when I get to a point where I might send the poem out for publication or include it in a collection / manuscript, I still revise non-stop. I’m still revising and changing poems from my first book, even though there are published versions out there and have been for years.
What is your revision/editing process?
(As mentioned above.)
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
Yes, I did. Pretty typical stuff, really. In terms of getting started, I just wrote as a hobby. There was no key moment, or anything like that. I just wrote because it felt right. Necessary, in a way.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
I read constantly and widely, both poetry and other genres like fiction and history. That sort of thing. I also check out a fair number of websites quite regularly. They’re helpful in terms of information, markets, and opportunities, as well as ideas for poems.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
Keep going. That’s got potential. Keep at it!