We’re super-stoked to bring Trista Mateer, a Maryland-based poet, here to answer a couple of questions about her work, her book, Honeybee, and being a twenty-something queer poet.
Where is your favorite place to work?
My bed. I get too distracted around people or even just out in the open. I take notes everywhere. I am a big proponent of writing things down all the time even when they seem insignificant. I just don’t generally have the frame of mind to piece things together until I’m alone in my room in the middle of the night.
Do you have an established process?
1. Start with an idea: a half-formed metaphor, a piece of overheard conversation, a train of thought, whatever. 2. Write it down. 3. Follow it through to the end, even if it stops making sense.
I do sort of fragmented, free-thought writing just to gather all my thoughts on a particular line or sentiment that I’ve started working with. That’s the important part, getting things down on paper. In the midst of this, if it is a piece that involves any kind of research or fact checking on a topic, I do that now. After everything is written down somewhere, if editing doesn’t come easily immediately, I like to let things marinate for a few days. I never throw anything out, writing wise. I recycle unused lines. I have little notebooks of things I heard on the train, or at work, or in the airport. Stylistically speaking, the process of getting everything actually looking and sounding like a poem is very secondhand and pretty unimportant to me. If you’re open and honest, it will sound like a poem. The line breaks are mostly irrelevant afterthought.
What poets (or writers) have influenced you?
It might seem strange to name one of my contemporaries here, but seeing the way that Clementine von Radics’ work read so intimately straight off the page sort of sparked my interest in writing clearly and honestly about things that were important to me. It might not seem like a big thing but there is such a huge difference in work that appeases everyone and work that has heart in it.
Also Andrea Gibson because… she is amazing. I mean, have you listened to her work? Everything has such raw intensity . She’s like a forest fire of spoken word poetry.
What was it like publishing your own book?
Nerve-wracking, tiring, but sort of easy actually. How about physically simple but emotionally taxing? That sounds right. I Read a lot about it before I dove into self-publishing and I knew some people who had gone down that road before.
What was the most difficult part about putting Honeybee together?
Worrying about straddling the line between privacy and honesty. This body of work in particular is very personal and I spent a long time wondering if it was even a morally okay thing to do for me to share all of this personal stuff with strangers. It seemed like one thing to post poems to my blog individually, over the course of a year or so without naming names, and another thing completely to title a book with her nickname and shout into the void: ALL OF THESE POEMS ARE ABOUT YOU.
In the end, I just stopped worrying about it.
What was the most valuable lesson/take-away from self-publishing?
You don’t send it away and host it on Amazon and then walk away from it. Self-publishing turned into self-promotion and self-promotion is an everyday job for independent authors. You have to market yourself because nobody else is going to do it for you. If you are not up to basically knocking on people’s doors and peddling your books, don’t bother with self-publishing. Things won’t sell unless you let people know they exist.
How is your blackout poetry project coming?
The gist of the project is that I am trying to make blackout poetry out of old, handwritten love letters. The problem with this is clearly that love letters are not usually something anyone has sitting around in mass quantities. I cycled through my own love letters and pen pal letters as well. Now I’m mostly just waiting to get more people involved. Generally speaking, I’m just looking for letters. They can be love letters you want to get rid of but that’s not necessary. Mostly people have written to me about people they love or old relationships, things they’ve been through, things they want to say to other people. Sometimes they don’t address me at all. It almost feels like opening a stranger’s mail. The goal is to make something bearable, kind or pretty out of feelings that are often looked back on as unbearable, unkind and ugly; as well as giving people a place to vent about those feelings. Not everyone can spill their guts straight into poetry.
If the topic has sparked anyone’s interest, there’s more information on my blog (http://tristamateer.com/blackout)
Who’s on your queer “To Read” list?
In no particular order: Joanna Hoffman, Staceyann Chin, Eileen Myles, Stacey D’Erasmo, and Audre Lorde
I’ve noticed a trend in young contemporary poets—or at least the poets I’m drawn to—have a, not a sentimental sense, but definitely a more romantic aesthetic than previous schools, and it all seems tied up in this paradox of bleakness at the situation or situations we find ourselves in (personally, culturally, as a society, as a community) and hope that we might improve our lot. Where do you see yourself in this trend or do you see yourself responding to this at all?
I think this is a combination of things. With everyone able to share their work on social media instead of just pursuing traditional publication, we see a lot of voices emerging earlier than with the previous schools of poetry. A lot of young, contemporary poets right now (myself included) write with an urgency about the things and people that propel our pens onto paper. And yes, a lot of it reads very Romeo and Juliet, very “this is it, this is the one, I will never feel this way again for anyone else.” It’s not even all about people. We seem to romanticize this sort of lost lifestyle, this “sloppy makeup sex, crushed beer cans in the bathtub, haven’t left the house in days” lifestyle. We take out our metaphors and we smooth everything over into something—and here is where I would argue—not romanticized necessarily, but bearable. This emergence of young writers writing about what they know and what they feel definitely results in a lot of glittery metaphors for the bleakness of daily living, but that’s your twenties. That’s growing up. That’s learning to transition from a child to an adult. That’s the way that it feels when you’re suddenly expected to have yourself together, to deal with your adult struggles, to call the bank and pay your bills and to live alone or to wade your way through college. That’s coming out to your family and getting a real diagnosis for depression instead of waiting it out. That’s believing honestly that yes, there is a pizza box on the floor by the table that has been there for days and a pile of unreturned voicemails from your mother, but there is also a set of warm arms and an inviting mouth in your bed that makes you want to wake up in the morning.
I am twenty-three. My whole life is saturated with equal parts fear and hope for the future. I don’t know how not to write about it.
How do you see yourself and your work intersecting with your queer identity?
To be honest, my work was how I sort of came out about my “queer identity.” When you take a page out of Hemingway’s book and are determined to “Write clear and hard about what hurts,” a lot of times what hurts is keeping secrets and not being true to yourself, not presenting your whole self to other people. Poetry of an intensely personal nature has a way of presenting your whole self to another person.
What advice do you have for aspiring queer writers?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers. Try not to view other people who do what you do as competition. It is good to be able to congratulate other writers, to help each other out, to bounce ideas off of like-minded people. Find them and be kind to them.
And don’t skip topics. Don’t change the pronouns you’re writing to. Don’t worry about appeasing or offending. Don’t worry about a fan base. Don’t worry about what other people are going to say or think. You’re not writing for them. And if you think you are, you’re doing this for the wrong reasons. Write for yourself. Write about what you need to write about even if it’s just love poems. The world could always use at least six more love poems. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.