If you've picked up your own copy of our first issue, you know how amazing it can be to get some insight into how a writer crafts a final poem. But we wanted to dig a little deeper with our poets and provide a kind of "backstage pass" into their particular thought processes. We're creating a series of Poet Spotlights so that our readers can become more intimate with the process of the writers who are published in our journal.
Matthew Erman lives in Columbus, Ohio. His work has been featured in 614 Magazine, Cracked, Filigree Literary Journal, Burning Muse, and Oxford University in Miami. You can check out more of Matthew's work on his blog: www.passivevoice.tumblr.com
How do you start a poem?
I generally start writing a poem (in the rare occasions I actually set out with a specific goal in mind) with an emotion or a feeling. Something a bit more abstract. Sometimes it is a scene, more or less isolated from any context that I find interesting or emotive. Writing poetry to me, as an exercise or as a way of creating something, is almost a way of sketching for me. I witness something or feel something and try to sketch that thing out.
Once that scene is kind of established and I've gone through the movement, I'll start to really plug words that build on that scene, contributing to an overall narrative. It's not as clear-cut as that, but that's the best I can do to describe it.
What does your process look like?
It's quick and a bit sloppy, I'm not a taught writer and I don't have a lot of the skills or practice with technical patience as a lot of other writers. I move quickly through a scene, or a thought and I get it down in probably fifteen minutes (if we're talking about poems) and if I'm feeling it and it looks good - I'll edit it and tweak some things. If I'm not into it, that's usually where the whole thing ends, I don't tend to work on something I'm not passionate about, which is an issue for longer things because the passionate fluxes and one day you're in love with something and the next day you're kind of wondering why in the world you're even bothering to plug away time into something.
My process is kind of just dealing with that feeling, patience as a reward, sticking it out through what is sometimes a lack of passion and making something new or putting that passion into check to make sure I'm not overly eager. Both are damning for me, and dealing with those things lead to a more lucrative creative exchange.
At what point did you consider yourself a writer?
When I got to cash my first publication check for fiction, they've been few and far between but that felt good and I felt like I could say I wrote something that someone paid for, and I was able to turn my thing I created to a physical, tangible object that defined it's worth. It's maybe weird or materialistic, but that meant it was more than a hobby. It was a hobby that paid for some shoes every once in a while.
Which of your own poems is your favorite and why?
I wrote one a few months ago that I really like:
I really enjoyed writing this and it felt good to write. It kind of works as a good example of what I like to write and what I enjoy reading as well. It's got this central scene and works around that one thing that happens to build on the narrative of what's happening. I'm primarily a fiction writer and I enjoy the story-telling aspect of writing and I try and work it into my poetry in a way that structurally makes sense. I like this poem a lot, and I haven't sent it to any journals yet.
How do you know when a poem is not working, what do you do about it?
Delete it. I don't even consider keeping something I don't feel at least pretty good about. It's not worth the time in the day to keep something that is mediocre to make 'okay.' In that time editing something you can make something new with everything you've learned about this old thing that might suck.
How do you know when a poem is finished?
Usually because I don't spend much time on the actual writing part of a poem, whenever I step away and do something else that's typically when the 'writing' ends and I edit when I come back. It's not the greatest way to do something, but when I'm interrupted and step away my mind generally drifts into another state and it's hard for me to come back to something and keep the same level of energy. It's why I gravitate towards a longer fiction than with poetry. I can step away and let something gestate and come back and be in the same mindset with a novella or a short story than with poetry. I don't know why honestly. I wish I could blame it on something to do with patience, but that doesn't check out with how long some of the things I write end up being.
How do you accept critiques?
I'd say better than most. I subscribe to the notion that everything I've learned and done, I can attribute to someone else either influencing me or teaching me something about what I do. So yeah, I generally take critiques pretty well, you kind of need to, otherwise how will you improve?
What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
Actually convincing myself to do it. Without a deadline or a goal in mind, sitting down to write seems somewhat alien. I need an outside influence, pushing me to do it. If only I had better structure and schedules, setting aside time to do this. It's a hard sell these days, especially when gratification can come much faster with other things.
What do you do when you’re facing a writer’s block?
Take a long, hard break from writing and enjoy life because it is too short worrying about making something that doesn't feel right or come naturally. Seriously, people freak out about this whole thing a little much for it be healthy. Just grab a sandwich, take a walk and chill. Writing is an extension of yourself, a growth that happens and you can't force it, in my opinion (obviously.)
If you cut your hair, you have to wait for it to grow back. I feel the same about writing.
Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing?
Yeah, I once saw poetry as this great fix. This big thing that can fix your problems, that you can attract a personality with, a thing I could lean on as a supplement to my own issues. If I just write about that or this issue or this whatever. It's not like that. It is a naive way of thinking about things and I don't want to imply 'teenage' because there some incredible teenager writers that exist in this bubble of quality and emotional intelligence that I just didn't have when I first started writing.
Being aware of what I wrote was another thing, how people view me as an extension of what I write. At the end of the day, what I (and others) do is a form of entertainment, whether emotional or intellectual, a poem or a story or whatever - it's main goal is to entertain the reader.
I've placed less importance on creating 'art' because I think that is dumb, or having this grand message. Not everything needs to say something, and not everything you say needs to be important, or good or even thoughtful. As long as a piece of you is in what you write, however minuscule or microscopic whether it is a word you like or an inside joke or a name of an indian dish you once ate, as long as you can say - this says something about me or an experience I had or felt I think it is important. That's all.