Throwing up the middle finger to the writing world: an interview with Matthew Gasda 0 Comments

Throwing up the middle finger to the writing world: an interview with Matthew Gasda

Your first collection, The Humanist, is available through Literary Laundry Press. Tell us a bit about the book.

The Humanist is, I guess, a Wordsworthian project. By this I mean that I try to bring the imaginative awe and innocence of childhood into the framework of the ‘philosophic mind’. I’m proud of the book (it’s very short) but I’ll never write anything like it again. The Humanist poems are long and optimistic and all the poems I’ve written since are much shorter and sadder—including the poem that is going to be published in the next issue of Voiceworks.

I also understand that you used Kickstarter in order to raise money for the book. What was it like pitching your project and why do you think you were successful in raising the necessary funds?

Literary Laundry (the first journal to publish something by me) sent out a notice that they were branching out into chapbook publication. So I sent off a manuscript and promptly expected to be rejected. Hedging my bets I started a Kickstarter because I fully intended to publish the book myself. The Kickstarter was very successful and at times terrifying—I felt very overexposed at first.

About a week after the Kickstarter ended Literary Laundry got back to me saying they would like to publish the manuscript. So to make a long story short, I gave some of the Kickstarter money to the publisher and put the rest away for a rainy publication day.

Some people see poetry as antiquated and dead. What is your response to this?

Well it’s stupid. I do think certain forms of poetry are no longer responsive to the way we live—like the epic, which has been replaced by the novel. But the idea of intense, musical, supra-rational speech (which are some of the identifying qualities of poetry) going away or being dead… that’s nonsense to me. Art, people and forms change—certainly. Poetry has evolved but it’s not gone.

Now, I do think, conversely, that the mistake some young poets make when they discover poetry is to become poetry-centric. It’s a sort of logical reaction to the anti-poetic climate (at least in the US where I live). This is something I’ve gone through myself. Now, I wouldn’t say that I’m just a poet. I love the novel, I’m writing two at the moment. I love film and I’m doing some work with that. Drama. I love music. Painting. Sculpture. All of those artforms are dazzling to me, mysterious. I find the poetic in more than just poetry.

America has a much larger publishing industry than Australia. Do you involve yourself in the writerly community over there?

Yes and no. I would say that 99.7% of our publishing industry is comprised either of commercial, junk fiction, memoir or self-help—and the rest is mostly over-coddled, predictable MFA-bred literary fiction or poetry. Whether you look it historically or existentially, I think great writing tends to be hermetic, individualistic and unpredictable. Deciding to be a writer has to be a private process—a wrestling with the self. A community has to be something you join after you’ve interrogated your own ideas about ‘being an artist’ and either affirmed or denied them.

That said the literary community is incredibly important. Great writers don’t benefit from throwing up the middle finger to the writing world. Literature is full of great friendships. Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Tolstoy and Turgenev. These friendships, and the wisdom that passed back and forth within them, have probably resulted in better books and better lives. But again, this is something you can’t manufacture. Literary community has got to be organic and it has got to be an outcome of individual integrity, not the opposite.

What advice would you give young poets, particularly those who would like to self-publish?

Have faith. Or don’t have it. But remember that with any poetry publication, self-publication, small press, mid-size press (there’s no big press) it’s always going to seem absurd. It’s always going to have a small readership. That’s Kierkegaard’s great insight—that faith is absurd. If you can remember that—and affirm that—then go ahead, be a poet, publish. You’ll be okay.

And lastly, a very important question. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

I’ve always thought laser vision is the coolest—though impractical, perhaps.

Matthew Gasda’s poem ‘Salt’ will appear in the spring issue of Voiceworks ‘Copy/Paste’. He lives in New York and you can buy a copy of his book here:

Broede Carmody is an EdCommer who adores tea and Siamese fighting fish. His superpower involves being able to re-enact Jabba the Hutt’s laugh perfectly. Don’t ask why.

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