"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Friday, September 3, 2010

La Literati Interviews: Mathias Nelson

Somehow interviewing Wisconsin-based poet Mathias Nelson seemed to be the most appropriate next step after I reviewed his most recent chapbook, They May Try to Kill Me for This (see post below). Despite his humility, I'm still putting my money on a bright, blazing literary future somewhere in his horizon--if not presently, then posthumously. Read on, take notes:

Q: You make no effort to conceal your literary influences in this chapbook. From the metaphorical cannibalism of Bukowski, to the iconic Sylvia Plath rescuing you, literally, from a grave in "Digging Up Sexton," it almost seems in some ways that this collection is as memorable for its imaginings of the literary elite as it is for the chronicling of your own personal experiences. Where do you see yourself within that continuum? Do you hope be aligned with these poets (or others) in some way?

A: I just hope, with a distinct tone, to cut my own place on bookshelves, and the more I write the more I see the possibility of it happening. The nice thing is that it's happening all on its own. I hear of other writers struggling to find their voice, but that doesn't sound right to me. Why would you struggle? Let yourself come out. That's your voice. If you're struggling because you haven't found out who you are as a person, then go find that out before you write. As for me, I know too much about myself. And I'm terrified.

Q: There is a strong undercurrent of, and sometimes a collision between, the tender observer and the brutal participant; this dichotomy of tone elicits incredibly strong emotional responses in your readers and provides much of the joie de vivre behind your confessional poems. Can you relate any personal instances when these two distinct urges melded together?

A: Well, I often desire to be tender. I think I'm most tender with nature, to the point that it plagues me. I avoid stepping on ants. I feel bad when trees are cut down. Nothing is misplaced to me; it's just there. But with humans I can be rather harsh, and since you asked, I'll tell you I shoved a man through a window once for smacking the ass of my brother's wife. The man broke through the glass, could have fallen and died, and for what? A little ass smack! I don't even believe in marriage. I guess I was thinking about my brother. So in that sense I was harsh throwing that man, but also tender with my brother in mind because he gets very upset and hurt about people messing with his wife. And that man was embarrassed. It was even his window, right in the middle of a party. That makes me feel bad. See how tender I can be? His face looked like a squeezed scrotum, really red and in need of a shave.

Q: In a previous interview you discussed your view that empathy and intuition are the two most critical elements for successful writers. Explain that to me more fully:

Empathy is the most important thing in life, and of course if you want to write it's important there too. Feeling your character, and why they do what they do. Without empathy, what do you have? A jackass. Is that all you 're going to write about?

Intuition: you gotta know when to stop and go. It's like sex, you use empathy to feel your mate (reader) out, then you use intuition to know when to penetrate and finish and get the hell out of there. Unfortunately I haven't had sex for quite some time. Misplaced empathy.

Q: This is like asking a parent which child is their favorite, but, for the sake of being honest: what poem(s) in particular from this chapbook are the most significant to you?

I like the first poem, "A Bumble Bee Sting...", because it confronts religion with a little humor, and I was lying in bed when I heard the words come out of my fan.

Q: Are there any guiding principles for you when you write (stylistically, morally, etc)? If so, what are they, or how do you know when a poem is finished, optimal, "Mathias-approved," etc...?

A: I don't like to complicate things. I don't sit down and think about rules when writing. When I was younger I wasted a whole lot of time contemplating that bullshit. There aren't any rules, just make it clear, though sometimes it's okay if different readers derive different meanings from it, I just try to use a language that they'll understand.

I'm finished with a poem when it makes me want to puke. Not that I'm constantly picking it apart and changing it (though sometimes that is the case), but that I'm rereading it to the point of sickness because I simply like what I write.


  1. That's so funny. I'm completely passive with Human beings. If I need to push someone, I do it verbally. On the other hand, I drown doormice daily. Sometimes I hold em down w/ a fly swatter, cause it makes the process quicker. Great Interview Mathias. Woowho # 2!

  2. now THIS is an interview! i like the tone and the expectation that arises from exploring your new texts, thanks to chriteene..
    fine exposure for a solid voice.
    nadine sellers

  3. Christeene...it's late, and the keyboard is tired.