Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Matthew J. Lawler

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

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Matthew J. Lawler

is a Chicago native and poet. He has been published in numerous journals, including, The Miscreant, Scarlet Leaf Review, Peeking Cat Magazine, Eunoi Review, Dissident Voice, Spillwords, Madness Muse Press, People’s Tribune, Caravel Literary Arts Journal, Sick Lit Magazine, Visual Verse, and in an anthology titled “The Best Emerging Poets of Illionois,” put out by Z Publishing. His first full-length collection, “Concrete Oracles” published by Alien Buddha Press is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and also available throughout various local Chicago bookstores. It is a collection of 41 grippingly introspective poems that delve into concepts of identity, urban life, gangs, self-esteem, police brutality, the loss of a friend, and the ongoing struggle of living with juvenile diabetes since the age of thirteen. You can find him on Instagram @poetmjl or on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/matthewjlawlerpoet

The Interview

What inspired you to write poetry?

I’ve always loved words and had an affinity for the poetic language. I think being exposed to writers like C. S. Lewis and John Bunyan in my childhood helped me to appreciate figurative language. I’ve always loved allegories and writing with multiple meanings beneath the surface, so naturally the poetic language is no different. I also grew up in Chicago and lived through the “golden era” of hip hop which inspired me to become lyrical. I started writing raps and spittin’ them at a young age and eventually became a pretty well respected rapper in Chicago’s underground hip hop scene. I would venture to say that my “surroundings” birthed an immense amount of poetry in me. I grew up in a gang infested area in Chicago’s Irving/Albany Park neighborhood and at that time,( mid-nineties) gangs were really prevalent and so was peer pressure. I think I learned early on how to write down what I was feeling and seeing on a day to day basis. Also being diagnosed with Type 1 (juvenile diabetes) at the age of thirteen helped me to get in touch with my feelings in a deeper way. Emotions definitely inspired me to start writing.

Who introduced you to poetry?

In childhood my parents introduced me to Dr. Seuss and Aesop’s Fables. My dad also exposed me to the imagery, paradoxes, sounds, and language of the Psalms. In grammar school I experienced Tennyson, Dickenson, and Edgar Allen Poe, but really didn’t have a transcendental encounter with it until high school when a neighborhood friend Don Hall, introduced me to a more abstract style of rhyming. As I mentioned above, I grew up in the “golden era” of hip hop, so I was exposed to some of the greatest lyricists ever, Rakim, Nas, Krs-One, Pac and Biggie, Wu-Tang, Doseone, and Slug from Atmosphere. Early on in high school I was writing more straight forward narrative stuff pertaining to the neighborhood and Don was writing more abstract surrealistic nonsensical metaphorical ramblings reminiscent of Captain Beefheart, but it was the language that really captivated me, it was waaay out of the box, but it was beautiful. I believe it was in that moment when I truly encountered “poetry.” Next thing I know I’m taking a poetry class at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago and my Professor Perry Buckley explained figurative language to me in a way that was life altering. I fell in love with symbol, metaphor, imagery, tone, and the overall sense of the language.

How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I was very aware, especially after taking my poetry class with Professor Perry Buckley at Wright College. I started studying the greats, Keats, Blake, Wordsworth, Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Whitman, and Poe as well as some of the metaphysical poets like Herbert and John Donne. I acquainted myself with more contemporary poets like Etheridge Knight, Jaroslav Seifert, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Ai Ogawa and Frank Stanford. These past giants of the literary world definitely helped me to form my own poetic voice.

What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t know if I have a daily writing routine. When I was writing my first book “Concrete Oracles” it seemed that poems would just come to me out of nowhere and I think that’s the way I like to approach it now. I believe it has something to do with “vocation” and knowing that writing is something I was made to do. It is a spiritual experience for me. My thoughts come and go in a peripatetic quest to formulate words upon paper. I’m a firm believer in not forcing the writing out, but to be still, and wait for the time when memory, emotion, and the present moment collide to conjure images that can be translated into words.

What motivates you to write?

It is cathartic to me. There is a great burden within compelling me to write. It is both a blessing and a curse. I would say experiences, memories, and emotions all motivate me in capturing images and feelings that can only be expressed through words. Most times it’s in observing things and paying attention to my feelings in the moment that I find inspiration. My inner-life is a complex world of anxieties, hopes, dreams, beliefs, pain, happiness, void, fullness, grief, love, light and dark. It’s in the soul where I truly find motivation. Rimbaud thought of the poet as a “seer and a scientist” one who can delve into the unknown and make it known. I guess I like to think of myself in that way (metaphorically of course) delving into the interior life to bring something tangible to the surface.

What is your work ethic?

I like to think of my work ethic as passionate and consistent and though I fall short of being considered a prolific writer, I value the depth and emotion that I write with above all else. “Less is more” is the paradox.

How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Edgar Allen Poe definitely inspired me to write. I loved the emotions that I could feel while reading his stuff, the rhythms and rhymes of his poems always intrigued me. John Keats, William Wordsworth, and the great mystic romantic poet William Blake also had a profound impact on the forming of my own poetic voice. Blake was the only “city poet” of the romantics, a product of the rough and tumble London of the late 18th century. He was also immensely unconventional, untamed, and a free spirit. I think all of these romantic poets inspired me to write with emotion and freedom, a certain vulnerability, if you will. I guess in a way, “I’m a whole lot of everybody else,” yet uniquely myself.

Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Luis J. Rodriguez is by far my favorite poet today. In fact his book “The Concrete River” actually inspired my book “Concrete Oracles.” I got a chance to meet him a few years back and he is just the most humble and unpretentious guy. His poems are full of grit, truth, and emotion. I definitely admire Yusef Komunyakaa as a “philosophical” poet and one who weaves a plethora of images into a narrative language. His poem “Facing It” is a powerful persona poem about facing the past, as the speaker is a Vietnam vet visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. The poem is personal, thought- provoking, emotional, and full of the agony that comes with confronting one’s demons. Komunyakaa is simply brilliant and his poem “Facing It,” will forever be etched upon my heart with its imagery, tone, and reality.

Why do you write?

It is cathartic for me. I’m driven to write as a way of creating and healing. It is the only time when I feel truly free to be myself with all my idiosyncrasies laid bare upon the page. I write for myself and the inner joy that it brings. I want to dig beyond the surface and I feel writing is a way to do that. It is a spiritual experience that transcends the material world. In a way it is related to the insatiable desire to live. Writing is immortal and that urge to “live” is something innate and within us all. I just choose to express that desire through writing. There is a deep urge to create something real, I want to feel something when I write, something birthed from the invisible life of the soul. In a world of materialism and artificiality writing is a gateway to transcendence, and to be a poet is really to be an outsider, a contemplative, one who finds meaning and joy not in the way the rest of the world finds it, but to find it in the silence and brokenness of one’s own spirit.

What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Well, the first thing I would inquire about is the person’s reading habits. If they do not read or read a little, I would probably say their chances are slim to none. I’ve heard it said that reading is like inhaling and writing is exhaling. In order to write you need to feed the mind with words and images that provoke the inner muses. Once the inner muses have been awakened it is imperative to jot down anything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about sense at this point, it’s more about getting things out than any kind of sensical language. You can sift through the pieces and put the words together like a puzzle once your words have hit the page. The great English romantic John Keats said, “nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.” I would say to be attentive to the moments and what you’re feeling inside with every interaction, every emotion. Poems, language and images are everywhere, but the most important thing is to always keep your eyes open and observe in order to transfer thought and emotion into writing.

Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment?

My first full-length poetry collection, Concrete Oracles, published by Alien Buddha Press is out and available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It was a project that I was working on for the past 4 years and I’m extremely grateful to see all my hard work finally pay off. It is a collection of 41 introspectively gripping poems that chronicle my experiences of growing up in Chicago. It is confessional and vulnerable, and full of the ups and downs that come with “city life” and the constant crutch and roller coaster ride of dealing with Type one diabetes. I consider it my baby and my masterpiece. I only hope one day, perhaps, it will be remembered and looked upon as a great book of poetry. At the moment I’m starting on some chapbooks and hopefully I will have those out sometime next year.

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