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Interviews
See David's web site, here.

In No Rush: A Conversation with Frank Matagrano
For his poetry, see here.

The author of Moving Platform and How to Breathe in Case the Plane Goes Down (http://www.puddinghouse.com/), Frank Matagrano writes poems that, as he puts it, are "rather distracted by themselves." That's not to say the poems don't do something or get somewhere, just that they take an unhurried route. A native New Yorker who now spends equal time in Chicago, Matagrano's work demonstrates a kind of languid intensity that often takes a mundane or quirky moment and worries it into something surprising. His titles alone—"Throwing a Shoe at a Branch," "Driving down Route 80 without a Radio," "Borrowing Kylie Minogue"—indicate how nothing is safe from his attentions.

Matagrano's work has appeared widely on line in The Adirondack Review, Samsara Quarterly, Literary Salt, Exquisite Corpse and other electronic publications. His print credits include, among many others, ACM, Roanoke Review, Canary River Review, and Main Street Rag. An edition of his Selected Poems, part of the Pudding House Publications Greatest Hits series, will appear in the future.

This conversation took place over a few weeks, via email, in no particular hurry. And, as it turns out, like Matagrano's poems, the questions and answers distract themselves in some surprising directions.

David Wright: Do you have a typical writing process? Do you write in fits and starts or are you a more daily, disciplined writer?

Frank Matagrano: There's usually a bunch of things simultaneously burning on the stove. My habit these days is that I'll write a line or two, several perhaps, then walk away for days or weeks or however long - then return and continue. I tend to spend more time mulling over the prospects, thinking about the poem and its possibilities more than actually writing it. I mean, the writing is more or less daily, but not in a traditional sense. It's kind of like that psychology test, whatever the hell it's called, where one person says a word and the other person responds with the first thing that comes to his or her mind, except I don't like to limit myself with just one quick answer.

DW: Word association, I think. What role does reading play in all this mulling? What kind of reading generates writing for you?

FM: More often than not, a particular detail - not the whole story, mind you, but just a small extract - from an Associated Press blurb or whatever news, whether in the paper or a magazine or on TV, manages to somehow find its way into the course of a draft. The most obvious, if not blatant, case of this lies in something I wrote called "Twenty Six Years after Nixon's Resignation." That was very much an extreme case, and I don't think I'll ever write in that manner again. I was still living in New York during the Bush/Gore election, and I just found myself for two months or so, sitting in front of the television, watching the news, writing this thing while the election was in progress, literally futzing around with pieces of the nightly news. Very early versions of it had all sorts of "stuff" in it, and I use "stuff" in the broadest sense possible. I know a car commercial managed to find a way into an early draft, the Simpsons at one point made a cameo. I mean, the writing process for that particular piece was very television-driven, and subsequently, way out of control. Luckily, I stopped writing a few weeks before election day, and the poem doesn't go that far either. I don't think I could have sustained that kind of energy during the re-count.

DW: You make quite a few of your poems out of the material of everyday work and getting around—"Driving Down Route 80 Without a Radio" and "On Business for Three Days in Indiana." You often seem to spin it in a rather mythical or cosmic direction, as you do in "Indiana" with the recollection of the funeral, etc. Is this a conscious kind of looking for the mythical in the everyday? Or how does it appear?

FM: I tend to take things on their own terms, so no, I'm not really thinking about a mythical or cosmic direction. If anything, I'd venture to say the poems are rather distracted by themselves. By this, I mean that's there's usually one thing that conjures or connects to something else - two polar opposites with a degree or two of separation - and the tie in "On Business for Three Days in Indiana" I think serves as a fair exhibit of this. A narrative can potentially be its own worst enemy, quite frankly. One thing I admire about, say, a film like Pulp Fiction is its success in subverting a linear structure.

DW: If it's not exactly narrative, then, what draws you to these sorts of events and subjects?

FM: In the end, it's narrative, whether I want it to be or not. That aside, the material, in and of itself, is pretty common, if not utterly dull. I have a twisted affection for modes of transportation, whether it be a plane or a train or a bus or a car. I think part of my attraction comes, oddly, from a discomfort for it. I manage to embellish the experience, for myself anyway, into a worse case scenario, like visions of a flat tire on a highway in the middle of a rain storm, or an engine problem 30,000 feet in the air. I'm pretty good at being paranoid. Last year for example, I flew to New Orleans, and while in the midst of flight, I had a dreadful fear of the floor falling out from under me.

DW: Yeah like the title of your chapbook, How to Breathe In Case the Plane Goes Down. So discomfort and paranoia, those can be good places for poems to begin?

FM: Anything has the capacity to be a starting point, I suppose, even discomfort and paranoia. But those are rather broad terms, and my attraction is strictly a personal one. From a writing perspective, however, I am only interested in the raw source material from a situation such as a plane ride - the stewardess showing passengers how to use the mask in case of an emergency, bags crammed in the overhead bin, free peanuts passed during the flight, and so on - and how the material looks in a certain light, or in a certain context.

DW: In a poem like "Watching Grandma Die," you're dealing with powerful yet dangerous material, dangerous in terms of potential sentimentality. What helps you navigate that material?

FM: It's smoke and mirrors. In the context of "Watching Grandma Die," the title is really doing all the work. It provides an illusion of "sentimentality," but really there is nothing in that vein throughout the poem. There's one line that flirts with the notion - "the fifteenth floor where all cancer patients are sent to die" - but that's it, and I would not qualify that as sentimental as much as a matter of context. There's no talk of old women in the poem, no dying last words, no fond memories of grandma's cooking, none of that bullshit. The shadow of the title is large enough to hang over the whole poem, and subsequently, tap into the reader's sentimentality. The high-level idea, I suppose, is to work with emotional baggage people carry with them rather than try to compete with it.

DW: I think that's the case with most successful poems since modernism. They employ smoke and mirrors to evoke rather than demand responses. Eliot called it an escape from emotion rather than an expression of it. Is Eliot in the background here? Or what writers have helped you shape this approach?

FM: If Eliot's in the background, it certainly isn't intentional. In all candor, there's not necessarily a specific writer to which I can point. It really boils down to a gag reflex, a picky American consumerism. It goes back to bullshit. If the language or image or action does nothing but make me roll my eyes to the back of my head, I'm not investing time in it. There's got to be a credibility.

DW: Is there anything that keeps you from writing?

FM: Nothing really. I mean, there's that little thing called "life" - you know, making a living and other miscellaneous personal obligations - but there's a time and a place for everything. I'm in no rush.

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