Please join me today in welcoming poet Matthew Thorburn, author of Dear Almost to the blog today. I reviewed Matthew’s collection yesterday (my review) and was really touched by it. Today Matthew is going to talk about his sideline in interviewing authors as part of his tour with Poetic Book Tours. Enjoy and please be sure to enter to win a copy of Matthew’s poetry collection for yourself.
Thanks so much to Peeking Between the Pages for inviting me to share a guest post as part of my Poetic Book Tour in support of my new book of poetry, Dear Almost. I’m excited to be here and to talk a bit about my sideline in interviewing authors, in response to your question:
In addition to being a poet and having a job in corporate communications, you also interview other writers for a monthly feature in Ploughshares. What’s it like being on the other side of the interview table and how does your experience as a poet and interviewee inform your question choices and preparation?
I started interviewing writers a few years ago—first on my own website, and now for the Ploughshares blog. (You can find all those interviews here and here.) I have to tell you, I love being on “the other side of the interviewing table,” as you put it, for several reasons.
Asking questions. When I really enjoy a book, I almost always have questions I’d love to ask the author. Why did she decide to write her novel from the daughter-in-law’s perspective? What kind of research did he do for those poems about 19th-century eye doctors? Her play makes me think of that story by Flannery O’Connor—did she have it in mind when she was writing? Not keep-you-up-all-night questions, it’s true, but things I’d wonder about and wish I could ask.
Having an excuse to reach out. Being an interviewer—even if only for my own personal website—is the perfect reason to reach out and talk to writers about their work. For instance, I loved reading John Gallaher’s book-length poem In A Landscape. Once I started it, I found it very hard to put down—and honestly, when was the last time I felt that way about a poetry book? Asking him some questions enriched my reading experience, giving me more insight into why I liked the book so much.
Helping books find readers—and vice versa. While personal curiosity was the initial spark, I also like having the chance to help good books reach a larger audience. And especially with poetry, I think books often need some word-of-mouth momentum to help them connect with readers. I occasionally write book reviews for much the same reason, but have found interviews are a more effective way for me to help shine some extra light on books I admire.
Getting in touch with other writers. I have to admit, wearing my interviewer’s hat is the perfect excuse to get in touch with writers I don’t know. Forging ties with these writers, even just via email, makes me feel like I’m part of the conversation, and makes the reading-writing world feel a little smaller to me.
After reading two knockout poems by Kerrin McCadden in American Poetry Review, I was thrilled to get in touch and have the chance to interview her about her debut collection, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes. And one of my upcoming interviews for the Ploughshares blog is with Margaret Rhee. Her chapbook of poems, Radio Heart; or, How Robots Fall Out of Love, is surprising, strange, fascinating, beautiful, mysterious—really unlike anything else I’ve read lately. Talking about it with her was a real treat.
Being an active audience member. Writing is a solitary business. Whether we do our work at a computer or in a notebook, we usually do it alone. Once the writing is done, though, it’s a pleasure (for me, anyway) to share the work with other people, and sometimes even have the chance to talk with them about it. I like having the chance to start that conversation.
As a writer, I also enjoy answering questions about my own work. Earlier this year I was interviewed by Jessie Serfilipi for Pine Hills Review, for instance, and welcomed the chance to talk about my work and tell some of the stories behind my books. Especially when it comes to poems, which are often such brief, fleeting things, it can be helpful for readers to have some backstory and context in which to ground their reading experience.
Being an engaged reader. I hope that being a writer myself helps me ask better questions, or at least stay sensitive to the fact that time spent answering interview questions is time spent not writing. Most of all, though, I just try to approach my interviews as a thoughtful, engaged reader—someone who’s spent time with this particular writer’s work, who has gained something from it, and wants to give something back to it. I try to be the kind of reader I hope to find for my own writing.
About the Book
Dear Almost is a book-length poem addressed to an unborn child lost in miscarriage. Beginning with the hope and promise of springtime, the poet traces the course of a year with sections set in each of the four seasons. Part book of days, part meditative prayer, part travelogue, the poem details a would-be father’s wanderings through the figurative landscapes of memory and imagination as well as the literal landscapes of the Bronx, Shanghai, suburban New Jersey, and the Japanese island of Miyajima.
As the speaker navigates his days, he attempts to show his unborn daughter “what life is like / here where you ought to be / with us, but aren’t.” His experiences recall other deaths and uncover the different ways we remember and forget. Grief forces him to consider a question he never imagined asking: how do you mourn for someone you loved but never truly knew, never met or saw? In candid, meditative verse, Dear Almost seeks to resolve this painful question, honoring the memory of a child who both was and wasn’t there.
Praise for Dear Almost
“Like a modern-day Basho, Matthew Thorburn travels on a year-long journey through grief over the ‘almost girl’ he and his wife lose to miscarriage. Here, in artful, haibun-like free verse, the timely and timeless merge: geese are sucked into an Airbus engine, forcing an emergency landing; the poet contemplates the moon as he carries out a bag of garbage in the Bronx. The result is clear, mysterious, original, and ultimately hope-filled. Dear Almost might be the truest poem about miscarriage I’ve ever read.” —Katrina Vandenberg, author of The Alphabet Not Unlike the World
“Matthew Thorburn’s Dear Almost is a meditation on our lives and their impermanence, the miracle that we exist at all. The ghost of an unborn child hovers like a breath over these supple lines, but Thorburn finds room for food and prayer, for work and love, for keen observation of the twin worlds we inhabit, the one inside us and the one where our daily lives take place. I am glad to have Dear Almost in both of these worlds.” —Al Maginnes, author of Music from Small Towns
“One poem written across seasons, Matthew Thorburn’s Dear Almost is an elegy for an unborn child written out of love, kindness, and ultimately hope. There is sadness everywhere here that lives among the dailiness of our lives at home, around the world, and at work. What a capacious gift this poet has for perception, keen observation, and the written word, but even more so, a great gift for understanding all of the tangled cross-stitching of the human heart.” —Victoria Chang, author of The Boss
About the Author
Matthew Thorburn is the author of six collections of poetry, including the book-length poem Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016) and the chapbook A Green River in Spring(Autumn House Press, 2015), winner of the Coal Hill Review chapbook competition. His previous collections include This Time Tomorrow (Waywiser Press, 2013), Every Possible Blue (CW Books, 2012), Subject to Change, and an earlier chapbook, the long poem Disappears in the Rain (Parlor City Press, 2009). His work has been recognized with a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, as well as fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His interviews with writers appear on the Ploughshares blog as a monthly feature. He lives in New York City, where he works in corporate communications.
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