Part 2: Matt
When did you first host a poetry reading?
When I was seventeen I helped a poet in his fifties, Charles Dahlen, with an open mic/featured poet series at The Blue Moon Coffeehouse in Appleton, Wisconsin. I posted fliers like a madman and talked the ears off of all the young folk (and the agreeable old folk) who showed up. Chuck had a sound system and knew local poets we featured. I think the featured poet, Chuck, and I were the only people who showed up for the second reading, but within six months you couldn't walk across the floor to go to the bathroom without having to step over half a dozen teenagers listening to poetry. The local poetic establishment, made up mostly of endearing older people writing about their gardens, started showing up, too, but The Blue Moon was such a dive that didn't last long. We started two other readings in nearby towns, one of which took off, before I flunked out of community college and left for Los Angeles.
How did The Burning Chair series begin?
Katy and I wanted to start a series that wasn't entrenched in any particular poetic or social community. We'd recently moved to the city and noticed that each series had its own following and that few curators were drawing from a large range of younger poets. We wanted an eclectic audience--poets on the outside, shy and nerdy folks, non-poets--that would deflect a scene or established criteria. We had no idea how we'd accomplish that.
We needed a venue. I was waiting for Katy to get off work one night and having a drink at The Telephone Bar. I went around the corner to meet Katy and saw imitation stained glass windows inside The Cloister Cafe. I brought Katy back to the place and had mojitos with the managers, who had wanted to have a reading series but didn't know many writers. The freaky interior and the garden seemed conducive to our weird sensibilities. I got a friend involved, a fiction writer I grew up with, but that didn't last. Despite good turnouts for all but one of the first few readings, and some fantastic readers (Timothy Liu, Alex Lemon, Sabrina Orah Mark, Katy Lederer, Heidi Lynn Staples), I grew frustrated with the venue, the borrowed sound equipment, and my inability to hold the events together. I'm not much of a leader or organizer; I tend to follow impulses.
After three months I canceled the series, but then G.C. Waldrep asked if I'd set up an event for him and Paul McCormick at a venue that didn't serve alcohol. We found The Fall Cafe, and Henry (the owner) and his staff gave us free run of the place, as they continue to do. G.C and Paul gave what's still one of my favorite readings. Then we had the Slope Editions people (Andrea Baker and Sam White). Those readings convinced me to make the series work. I bought my own sound equipment and we were off.
You and (Typo co-editor) Adam Clay met in school in Arkansas, right? Were you fast friends or did it take a while?
Adam, Shannon Jonas, and I hooked up on the first day. I wasn't so sure of Adam, though. One night we were drinking beer in his backyard and exchanged words at length about the Civil War. I, for one, was ready to go to blows. It wasn't really about the Civil War, though. The three of us had prepared for immersion in poetry, to the point of physical transformation. We read our asses off, wrote our asses off, and at the end of the day had no one else (except for Tony Tost and a few others) to drink with who'd commiserate with the obsession, fatigue, and doubt. As time went on we became more sure of ourselves and felt ourselves pulling away from classes and workshop and following our own intuitions. Mostly, we were ostracized--except at the local bars, where we were (mostly) loved. We had to trust each other, and then we became brothers.
While in Arkansas, before we met our wives, Adam Clay and I liked to say that "Typo is all we have." When I came to New York I didn't know anyone, but I had Typo as a pool to draw from. The Burning Chair absorbed New York poets, though, and became something other than a mouthpiece for Typo. Also, the series would be much different with Adam involved--fewer mistakes, better manners, a plan. I wish it had that. Typo predates and will outlast all my other projects.
What's the team dynamic like for Typo & how does it work out being co-editors long distance?
We both got married. We're too busy destroying the lives of our chosen women to move with Typo as quickly as we did while in Arkansas. Fortunately, we get enough good work that the magazine runs itself. We're online a lot. It was more fun to make editorial decisions over a game of chess and a couple beers, though.
How does working on Typo with Adam differ from doing Cannibal with Katy?
Cannibal happens quickly. I chose most of the work for Cannibal and ask Katy for her take when I'm having a hard time deciding. Adam and I go back and forth, sometimes for months, on poems. Katy and Adam are both pretty critical. I guess I am, too. They do all the layout and design. I'm just the happy bum who reads poems.
You're a busy guy, you've got a lot of projects rolling at the same time. How would you characterize your ambition?
More like enthusiasm than ambition? Doesn't ambition have an objective? A poet I admire asked me, sort of challengingly, why I do so much. I still don't have an answer. I like to see what happens when I provoke something. Also, I trust my instincts. The journals that bore me seem to have objectives. I guess there's nothing wrong with having objectives. If Typo has made some sort of statement about poetry, it's a bi-product of our objective of having fun and finding good poets.
Aside from the fact that one is a print publication & the other an online journal, how do you see Cannibal and Typo as different from each other?
I tried to describe Cannibal as "sloppy" to a poet I tried to solicit. That backfired. "Why forgive sloppy poems?" she asked. I try to stay out of the business of forgiving poems as much as I stay out of the business of judging them. I wanted to make a magazine that put viscerally rapturous blogger poets like Anne Boyer and Sandra Simonds in the same pages as skeptical lyricists like Edmund Berrigan and Dustin Williamson, whose work I'd fallen in love with since moving to New York. All good poems have kinship. I also wanted to publish Jane Gregory, because her poems teeter over an explosion, and I want to be part of that when it happens. And I wanted to give Katy something to design, because she has a good eye.
Is Holy, your chapbook with horse less press, sold out its initial run in 48 hours--is a second run available now?
It's available print-on-demand. Jen Tynes keeps her poets' books available.
What function does your blog serve in your writing life?
I started Hyacinth Losers late last spring after a twelve-year-old student at my middle school, who I knew well, was killed in a drive by. Plenty of people, especially Katy, know how insane I was for a few months after that. Writing poetry was impossible, and I've never kept a journal or anything like that. The act of babbling online, of not revising, proofreading, or even weighing my words was intentional therapy.
Some blogs seek attention: mine exists in spite of my desire to askew it. I'm now as over my student's death as I'm going to be, no longer teaching in the public schools, and writing poems again, so now I have a blog in search of a purpose. I'm not going to stop blogging, though: I had another blog I deleted that then became a right-wing rhetoric-spewing hardcore porn links page.
You write prose in the blog--do you have any interest in writing other kinds of prose?
I want to write a mystery novel called Crib County, Wisconsin. It'll be a long narrative prose poem, like Fanny Howe's Radical Love, except mine won't be nearly as good, and probably I'll never write it. If prose is good, it's not any different than poetry.
Max is usually the first person to hear anything I write and, though he isn't a poet, he often gives really useful feedback. Is it like that with you and Katy?
One of my teachers used to show his wife his poems only after he'd finished his final draft. When he died, she knew the two poems on his desk were not finished because he hadn't shown them to her. I hide my poems from Katy. I'm trying to impress her with them more than anyone else, so I'm not going to show her anything I'm unsure of (or half-certain of, which is as far as I ever get). Also, I often avoid her criticism with anything I haven't worked on for a long, long time. She's an astute and unforgiving reader.
How do you feel about reading your poems in public?
I love it. Readings are the only time I get to be a poet in public. Poetry should be read aloud. I'm never satisfied after I read but love it when strangers come up afterwards and talk to me.
3 poems from Is Holy by Matthew Henriksen:
When the Lights Go Out at the Wooden Nipple
The woman asks "Any virtuous sailors in the room tonight?" A man with a neon halo says no, smashes the halo onto his scalp with his cap--
"Off to sea wit ye, den. Ar, ar," she says--
And he is gone. The room, still as a cigar that's been out for hours, smells of dog. The woman's leg is broken. Glass on stage shattered in the shape of a necklace. Lays her throat in the beer-dew crystal rainbow, sings herself to sleep, becoming the red river
a piano with nobody in it plays. A
The dog smells like saltwater, speaks: Thus has spoken.
The woman would get up, fix a drink, but she's forgotten whom she was: That's the nature and the nonsense of being blood. She hopes the dog didn't say that. But she's riding the tide. She's in it for the dough, the bread of her body whitening. The dog is just another way of saying,
"I'm sorry, didn't know who he
Afterlife on a Long, Shallow Hill
The footed rhyme of grave
benign in grass, this body, alive.
And when. Or not when but of. Of longing.
Oblivion's lens never closes. Diner won't blink.
People were terrified, then gone.
Regulations of the Assassins
Farcers told me when I went to extremes.
Seldom did I return but to twitch as a twig in the scene.
Who knew exorbitance burned stone.
What's left along the riverside wreaks havoc on the dead.
Call your memory finger and point the place unmapped.
Horizon to scold the tongues down.
A foothold in the mundane shell disclaimed veins.
In all that nonsense I became a gun.
back to Part 1: Katy
next interview: Lytton Smith
. . .