I really dislike writing my bio. After many attempts and submissions of bios over the years, I like this one best.
Matthew Manera was born, was named by his parents, lived for a while, changed his name, and has been living for a good while since then, all the while writing about it all (and making some of it up).
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
I don’t know that there was a specific moment, but there were certainly particular times in my life that, on looking back, seem to have set me on the path to writing poetry. As a young boy I grew up next door to a wonderful girl, and we would write stories to each other and then read them to each other. What was important in that exchange was, therefore, not just the writing of the words, but the speaking them out loud to someone else. In my teens I started writing songs, and the lyrics were always as important to me as the music.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
Inspiration is one of those much used but poorly understood words. When you think about it, the word refers to breathing in. Imagination is a kind of breathing in. What poets breathe in is, of course, a topic for much discussion. For me, inspiration—breathing in—is something that is part of every moment of being alive. In that sense, I find inspiration wherever I decide to focus my attention. When William Carlos Williams writes, “so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow,” he simply means that so much depends upon whatever we happen to look at. I don’t believe that one must wait for inspiration before writing a poem; inspiration is available to us at every moment.
What is your writing process?
My process in writing poetry has much to do with what I said about the nature of inspiration. There’s a part of me that wishes I could just write poetry all day long. To put it another way, I wish that I could be open to inspiration at every single moment. My process, then, simply involves taking the time to be still, to observe, to reflect, and then to write.
In terms of the more literal aspects of the process, I find that I cannot write poetry on the computer or on a typewriter—I have to use pencil (not pen) and paper. I have a spiral bound notebook that I carry around with me, and it is in that notebook that I write my poems. The reason for the pencil rather than the keyboard has to do with the physicality of the writing. I prefer the subtle vibration of the pencil moving across the page to the poking of square pads with letters on them. I think this comes from having been a guitarist for so much of my life. I loved the vibration of the wooden guitar body against my body, and the strings on my fingers.
What is your revision/editing process?
I don’t like to do a lot of revising or editing of my poems. If I can’t complete a poem in a single sitting, or at least in a single day, then I let it go. I think a good poem requires a focused attention and intention. If I try to come back to a poem the next day, my attention is in a different place, and my intention is not the same as it was when I began to write the poem. Having said that, while I am writing the poem, I will often cross out words or lines and rewrite them. I try, though, to get the image and the words clear in my mind before I write them on to the page. I think that this is part of the discipline that too many poets ignore, especially when sitting at the computer.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
As a matter of fact, I won first prize in the Junior Poetry Contest when I was in grade ten at Lorne Park Secondary School. So, yes, I was writing poetry when I was high school-aged. The poem was called “Sounds,” and I remember distinctly that I wrote it because of a poem we had studied that year called “Smells.” At least, I think that was the title, and I can’t remember who wrote it. I recall, however, that I was impressed by the many images the poet found to describe different kinds of smells. So I thought, what other sense could I use to write a poem about? It occurs to me only now, as I write this, that I was intrigued specifically by the senses. Hmm.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
There are only two resources I use: myself and the writings of other poets. I very strongly believe that the writing of poetry cannot and should not be learned from textbooks or manuals of any kind, though I do believe that a mentor—an actual human being—could be wonderfully useful. For me, poetry is very subjective, very phenomenological, in the sense of the intuitive or pre-intellectual moment. I use myself as a resource—my experience of simply being in the world, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I am also inspired by the poetry of my favourite poets—Eliot, Plath, Cohen, to name just a few. I will admit that sometimes when I read a wonderful poem by one of these poets, I am tempted to give up the craft myself, wondering how I could possibly write as beautifully as they do, but then I find my balance and realize two things: beauty should inspire more beauty, and there are different kinds of beauty—mine doesn’t have to be the same as theirs.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
It might have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet, but it would certainly depend on who that poet was. It would have to be someone who was not only a good poet (and yes, I understand that “good” is certainly a relative term in this context), but who knew how to communicate the joy of inspiration rather than merely the discipline of technique.