Interview with Matthew Rohrer
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: The voice in these “Collages” feels natural and organic, and partly developed by the lack of end-stops. How did you approach rhythm and line breaks in this poem?
Matthew Rohrer: First let me just say thank you for these questions, they’re great. So about the rhythm in these collages—I let the opening lines dictate the rhythm for me. I have done this a lot when working with “found” or collaged language—in my most recent book The Sky Contains the Plans I was working with lines that came to me in dreams, essentially, and I let them dictate the rhythm, sometimes even the syllable count. When I do something like a collage or a collaboration, I want them to sound as unified as they can, within reason. I dislike those collaborative poems that are just obviously the two poets talking back and forth to each other. I think the trick is to make it seem whole.
RR: In other interviews, you’ve described the hypnagogic sleep stage as a source of inspiration. Did your curiosity about other states of consciousness influence how you wrote these two poems?
MR: Well, I’m always looking for a new way to make a poem. The hypnagogic experiment was incredibly fun and generative. But those things tend to lose steam after a while. Everything does! So you gotta look for more ideas. I like collaborating with others, whether or not they’re in the room with me, because it’s a challenge to try to meet them in the middle, to sound like them, and to make a thing that seems like it has integrity, though it’s made up of broken pieces.
But I feel like you’re asking something else, which is about other states of consciousness, and yes, I love those, almost all of them. Not the ones caused by shortness of breath though.
RR: We were drawn in by the intertwined personal subject matter and surreal imagery. How do you navigate moving between reality and the surreal?
MR: It’s funny, I don’t really see it this way as much as maybe you do. I’m not going to say everything is surreal, but the things I’m interested in capturing in writing are the moments of wonder that exist right there, just underneath the everyday. That’s why I’m so interested in the daily, the mundane…it’s only mundane because we have to go to work. If we stopped and looked closely at our daily lives, they’re filled with wonder and amazement and beauty that’s staggering. But to talk about it—to call it forth in our normal lives—it takes a heightened way of speaking.
RR: You have generated a diverse body of work, from your collection A Hummock in the Malookas to your novel-in-verse The Others, and even orally improvised poems. Do you alter your writing process to work in all these different forms?
MR: Yes, all the time. I don’t want to keep writing the same way, and I think a new style not only demands a new writing process, but often it’s the new writing process that will bring about the new style. The truth is I like writing short poems. I like short poems. I feel like if you can’t break my heart in a short poem, then what are you doing? But at the same time I like to write long pieces too—it’s a different energy, a different mental energy. I wrote a poem that was a fifteen page-long sentence; I wrote The Others which is a 240-page adventure narrative poem… That one in particular was one in which I had to come up with new ways of writing to finish it. No artist of any kind should be looking for the thing that they can do for the rest of their lives—how dreary.
RR: If you were to write under a pseudonym, what would it be?
MR: For some reason that I cannot remember, the name Don Blue has always made me laugh. I feel like Don Blue is a big, blustery guy who gets things done and is maybe already a little drunk before you show up. And sometimes when I leave the house and realize I’m wearing all blue (it’s not that hard to do), I think to myself: I am Don Blue.
Matthew Rohrer’s work appears in Issue 10.1 here.