The Dayton area is blessed with an abundance of exceptional poets. I am pleased to know many of them as colleagues and friends. This month I’d like to introduce you to poet and outstanding literary citizen Matthew Birdsall… in his own words.
“Matt Birdsall has been a little corny his whole life. He blames Ohio. In fact, his first word was “combine.” Almost a year old, driving with his mom and dad in an old, green Chevy Chevette, he looked into a cornfield, saw a large machine, and said, “Combine.” Neither his mom nor his dad was too pleased that their son recognized farm machinery before he recognized them, but they were pleased with the number of syllables he’d used. Matt still tries to disappoint his parents, but now he uses words like “mother” and “father” to lay it on thick. When’s he’s not hanging out with his family, traveling for work, or otherwise indisposed, he spends time volunteering as the Managing Editor of the Mock Turtle Zine. He also sneaks in time to write in the wee hours of the morning.”
Jan Irvin: Welcome, Matt. My first question for you is why poetry? What drew you to the genre?
Matt Birdsall: I’ve always been drawn to poetry. I remember being fascinated with limericks and wordplay at a young age. To this day, poetry won’t let go of me. Sometimes, I feel like it’s pinning me down, as opposed to me penning it down. Heck, when I’m 18 drafts into a piece I’ve been chiseling away at for a few months, I sometimes ask the exact same question. Why poetry? WHY?!
J.I.: Matt, how do you balance the writing with your work with Mock Turtle Zine?
M. B.: I’m a natural task juggler. I’m always working on several things at once. In fact, I work standing up or on the move, so I can get as much done as possible. I can’t help it–it’s just who I am. I also love everything I do–education, traveling, writing, editing, etc. I’m lucky because juggling is a part of who I am, and I love all of the tasks that I juggle.
J. I.: Who is your favorite contemporary poet? your favorite classical poet? Why?
M. B.: These are difficult questions for me to answer because I love so many poets from so many ages for so many different reasons, but I’ll just shoot straight from the hip to save everyone a load of time. My favorite contemporary poet is Mark Halliday. He was my professor for several classes during my undergraduate years and I’m still fortunate to call him a friend during my adult years. Halliday leaves pretension at the door because true poetry doesn’t have to exaggerate its own worth. Classically, I’m a big fan of the boy genius, John Keats. I’m forever blown away at his insight into the human condition. How did he know what he knew when he was only in his teens/twenties? Also, his tongue was razor-sharp–I like that quality in poets (and everyone else for that matter).
J. I.: What trends do you see developing in poetry?
M. B.: Poetry, as with most art, often seems to come alive as a reaction to the zeitgeist–it adapts to become relevant in any era–because I believe that strong poetry allows readers to look more deeply at what’s really hallowed and irreplaceable. I see the poetry of tomorrow as growing more fractured to accommodate for the pervading cultural landscape with different camps of deeply embedded “style supporters”. By “style supporters”, I mean folks who seem to gravitate to one form of poetry or another–formal/rhyming poetry, avant-garde poetry, imagistic poetry, etc. For instance, right now I’m seeing lots of poetry that Tony Hoagland refers to as vertiginous poetry. In a recent article in the Poetry Foundation, Hoagland said “A thousand kinds of vertiginous poetry are currently being written, from Ashbery to Volkman. Vertigo can be dramatized, ventriloquized, celebrated, satirized, elegiacally lamented or critiqued in poems. One poem might be a cry of claustrophobic distress; another might rejoice in the whirlwind of modern phenomena; a third might be intent on exposing the epistemological instability of language.” Effectively, this is poetry that doesn’t leave the reader with a firm ground to stand on. Readers are left dizzy from the possibilities of the poem and its language in the same way that many humans are left dizzy from the possibilities of a day in the life of postmodern America. Vertiginous poetry is just one example. There are many more. I’m interested to see how poetry continues to adapt as we barrel through the digital age.
J.I.: What advice do you have for aspiring poets (like me!)?
M.B.: I like advice that is simple and effective. (I like my jazz the same way.) Keep reading and writing poetry–every day. Find a writing group that will support you to improve, not a writing group that just meets for coffee and gossip. The former is hard to find, but the latter is lurking everywhere. Personally, I write for an audience of one. Submit, submit, submit, and never get discouraged when you get rejected. If your work has value, it will find a home in the publishing world. If you apply yourself honestly to your work, it will have value. Be honest.
J.I.: Now, just for fun, what is your favorite comfort food?
M.B.: Right now, I’m in love with Harvest Mobile Cuisine’s Lobster Poutine.
J.I.: If you could meet any literary character, who would you choose and why?
M.B.: Kilgore Trout. Kilgore is a central character in many of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. He is arguably Vonnegut’s alter ego. I’m certain he would make me laugh (maybe cry too). I love laughing.