The Shore Interview #2: Matty Layne Glasgow

Questions by Ellery Beck, Interview Editor

EB In both “Lady Caribou Is a Badass” and “Fairy Drag Mother Reads Cinderella for Filth,” you utilize a strong conversational voice that speaks directly to the reader. What strategies do you use to determine the voice to convey in a poem, and what effect does those choices have on your work?

MLG I write towards a voice that strives for authenticity—of the speaker, of the myriad characters or entities manifest in the poem, of myself as the poet and space where these ideas and motivations all converge. In a poem like “Fairy Drag Mother Reads Cinderella for Filth,” I knew I wanted to embrace persona and write from the perspective of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother—but a drag queen—so voice and speaker arose as the most important elements of the poem from the first draft. A persona poem necessitates the poet hold a deep understanding of the speaker which can be challenging, but I also feel that understanding makes those poems more feasible in terms of developing a strong singular voice because I know where I’m writing from.

Regardless of the type of poem I’m working on, I always read aloud as I draft. I generally want my poems to have some sort of sonic appeal and performative quality, but beyond that I find reading the poem aloud as I write helps locate and hone the voice in each poem. I constantly write through struggles with voice and focus in my work, but even more so in the first couple of years of my MFA. I wanted every poem to do so much then, juxtaposing every humorous image or pun that came to mind with the darker themes of the poems explored. Many of the poems began to sound the same in their inconsistencies, so I really slowed down my drafting process to allow for time to perform the poem aloud and focus on a coherent perspective and voice in each poem.

These struggles often leave me pondering what I want my voice as a poet to be, but I think the poets I admire most show dexterity and range in the scope of their work, so I don’t think I really long to have a singular voice, but rather one that evolves in its quest for authenticity.

EB How does today's political climate have an impact on your poetry?

MLG It certainly provides ample material and research on the depravity of the human condition everyday. For a few years, I wrote pretty regularly in response to news stories, ranging from the Pulse Night Club shooting, to the pogrom in Chechnya, to the self-immolation of David Buckel last year. Online publications like Poets Reading the News, Writers Resist, and Rattle’s Poets Respond (amongst many others) provide a platform for poetry that directly engages with the political crises we face, and that platform remains quite important when we think about poetry as an artform with the potential to transform society.

More recently, our political climate has ingrained a sense of resistance in my work. I suppose my resistance manifests in both content, like themes of queer ecology and toxic masculinity, and form, such as bastardizing the sonnet or the villanelle. More broadly though, I think just as we resist exploitative systems in our society, we must resist problems that arise or have long been present in our own literary communities—whether that be access to community and academic programs, who occupies positions of power in those institutions, and how they yield that power. When I hear “identity poetics” or “political poetry” thrown around in a condescending or pejorative manner by those who reign over these institutions with fairly stale and antiquated perceptions of what art or poetry should be, my rainbow blood boils.

EB In your forthcoming book, deciduous qween, you frequently speak about your own experiences with masculinity and sexuality. Was it difficult to address these topics, and what do you hope your readers gain from your exploration of these subjects?

MLG This is the first manuscript I’ve written, so I would say everything about writing deciduous qween was difficult—from finally addressing my mother’s death in a meaningful and healthy way, to journeying back through some very traumatic experiences in my life growing up closeted in Texas. In terms of masculinity and sexuality, several of the poems continue to operate under a veil of shame that I and a great many queer souls continue to carry with us and navigate as best we can. That personal shame certainly arises from our culture of toxic masculinity, and poems like “Lady Caribou Is a Badass” and another more empathetic poem titled “Straight Boy” are attempts to deconstruct that toxicity.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to breathe without that poison, and so much of the collection attempts to liberate itself from that shame through queer worldmaking: love affairs with Captain Planet and Superman, imagining trees as drag queens, revealing the queerness of male seahorses and vultures. I hope readers, regardless of their sexual identity, gender identity, race, or age, can find solidarity and refuge in these poems. I didn’t get the chance to read Carl Phillips and Richard Siken until I was in my late twenties, and those books would have given me so much more purpose and hope in getting through high school and college. If someone reads deciduous qween and thinks “I feel that, too, and it’s okay to feel that,” it would be a refreshing breath in the depths of a queer forest for me.

EB Are there any magazines and journals you’re currently enjoying?

MLG The new issue of Gulf Coast is fabulous. I’m also a big fan of Pleiades, Ecotone, The Missouri Review, Bat City Review, and Denver Quarterly.

There are so many amazing online journals that I simply adore, but I’d like to give a more personal shout-out to Cotton Xenomorph, Underblong, Thrush, BOAAT, The Shallow Ends, Muzzle, and The Offing—all of which do such an impressive job of curating incredibly talented, emerging voices.

I also serve as a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal, and I love the work we are able to bring into the world, so I must give Adroit a ’lil plug, too.

EB Could you please speak to how two poems in The Shore (not including your own) are in conversation with each other in meaningful ways.

MLG Jill Mceldowney’s “The Believing Brain” considers what we are entitled to from this Earth, from time, and from love. The speaker describes meteors as “somebody else’s light,” as “the kiss that opens / everything,” creating a delicate juxtaposition between possession, intimacy, and destruction. Whose life or love does the meteor touch before touching Earth’s surface? Most intriguing to me is the acknowledgment of time, not only in the history of rock but in the reverberations of the poet’s curiosity with the question “How could I / continue / to write to the living / when what echoes the rock is deep time—.”

Lisa Compo’s “Monsoon Sun” also explores expectations of Earth and time through intriguing language of “the here-now” and “the here-sun.” Compo’s expectations center on the yearning for a cactus to grow with “The old / backyard saguaro has always been 10 feet tall, I am / waiting for it’s first arm to grow—it may be another 50 years.” Much like in Mceldowney’s poem, the speaker awaits a sign or growth from our world that may never come. Here though, Compo plays with time with the apparition of a ghost, “a scorpion left behind” who also waits. Each of these gorgeous poems ponders what we are entitled to see and to know, and how we grapple with the absence of that sight.

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Matty Layne Glasgow's debut collection, deciduous qween, was selected by Richard Blanco for the 2017 Benjamin Saltman Award and is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in June 2019. His recent work appears in or is forthcoming from the Missouri Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry Daily, Denver Quarterly, Grist, Houston Public Media and elsewhere. Matty lives in Houston where he teaches with Writers in the Schools.

Matty Layne Glasgow

Matty Layne Glasgow