Saturday, June 15, 2013

Poet Matt Mason Answers Some Questions

Matt Mason lives and works and loves and reads and does all kinds of things in Nebraska.  The author of several books, including Things We Don't Know We Don't Know, he is currently on a world tour for The Baby That Ate Cincinnati.

How would you describe what you do?
I run a literary nonprofit, meaning I answer emails from the point I wake up to the point I go to sleep; some days, though, I go to work at my higher paying job for my sister's videophotography company where I hold a fuzzy boom mic above people like Warren Buffett; when not doing either, I wrangle my two children as my wife also works, teaching a few classes at a university and teaching workshops in schools; I also coordinate Nebraska's Poetry Out Loud Program, am festival director for the Nebraska Book Festival and the Louder Than a Bomb: Omaha Youth Poetry Festival. And I think I wrote a poem a couple weeks ago.

Is this different than what other people think you do?

I don't know what other people think I do. You should have a blog where you just interview friends of poets about what they think their friend does. My suspicion is that people think I write more and that, perhaps, I have a nice smoking jacket.

How do you know if you’re on the right track with a project?

Maybe a couple years after it's published. Though I still second guess "Mistranslating Neruda," which I published more than 10 years ago. My newest book... I suspect I was on the right track but the internal jury's still out on some of the details.

How do you go about making choices?
By trusting my instincts more than my brain.

How do you know when you’re done?

I suspect I will be 100% sure right around the moment I cease to be classified as "alive."

What’s your workspace like?

Any place with wifi, Diet Coke on fountain and free refills is (i.e. McDonald's).

What are your essential tools?

Pen and a notebook.

What’s the most surprising tool you use?

Perhaps that would be the pop station at McDonald's where I refill with Diet Coke 3-4 times while, umm, in my office hours.

What was your biggest mistake or the one you learned the most from?

This might prove to be the Diet Coke, if internet health articles can be believed. Otherwise, what I learned the most from was when I was in college and stopped worrying about if what I was writing was poetry. Before then, I was worried about what poetry was and if I was writing it, I ended up writing what I wished poetry was rather than what it seemed to look like.

What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

"Dave's Insanity Sauce is good on spaghetti."

What’s the best?

"Try the chocolate croissant."

More about Matt and his work at:

Monday, June 3, 2013

On Discovering Words

When I was in graduate school, my roommate’s father came to visit.  We were in the middle of moving out of a house that we had been renting.  As we cleaned it up, packing boxes and mopping the floors, he sat on a bar stool and read entries from a dictionary out loud.  At the time, I found the behavior inexplicable.  Just another part of being a goofy old guy  And yet he was clearly fascinated by what he was finding and that made us interested as well.

As so often happens in my life, now I understand.  At some point, I began using the dictionary as more than a spell-checker, and I found it contained amazing information.  Meanings. Etymologies.  Odd juxtapositions.  And, as the poet said, “way leads on to way.”  One word leads to another.  Now, I sometimes find myself doing the same thing my friend’s father did, occasionally looking up a word and then looking up another word and then randomly browsing the dictionary and even reading it out loud to others (usually my poor captive students).  There is a pleasure in learning what words mean, and used to mean, and sharing the information.  A dictionary is like a Field Guide to Language.

Someone once told me that he couldn’t write poetry because he didn’t have a big enough vocabulary.  He didn’t have the words.  I explained that I didn’t have the words either, but the poems teach them to me.  I learn them as I need them.

Writing isn’t always an expression of language, sometimes it’s an exploration of language.  You discover the words as you go.