Matt McGuirk teaches and lives with his family in New Hampshire. He’s a BOTN 2021 nominee. His debut collection with Alien Buddha Press, “Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities,” is available on Amazon. His second collection, “Oil Stains Like Rorschachs,” is out with Anxiety Press and available on Amazon.
“Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities” https://www.amazon.com/Daydreams-Obsessions-Realities-hybrid-collection/dp/B09M4YKHBV/
“Oil Stains Like Rorschachs” https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BKMS59Y8
NF: Tell me about your personal writing journey. What drew you into writing?
MM: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I even remember putting together little nonfiction pieces with pictures way back in 1st and 2nd grade. From there it progressed to writing novels in spiral bound notebooks and sharing them with friends throughout my grade, some students would even be waiting for the next chapter to see what happens next, so that always made me feel good. I wrote a pretty terrible novel, well over 200 pages, in high school, but I was thankful my sister clung to each chapter I had her check out. I took two creative writing courses in college, and then shortly after college, writing took a backseat to work, making money, and building a family. Years later, the drive to write kicked back up around the time the pandemic started, and that’s when I began writing almost daily again, and for the first time in my life, shipping pieces to literary journals (my wife’s idea, and I’m still thanking her for the push, and saying the work was good enough). I’ve been rejected a lot but feel fortunate to also have found a lot of success, and now I have two books published (Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities with Alien Buddha Press and Oil Stains Like Rorschachs with Anxiety Press), and it has all seemed like a whirlwind of a few years, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to do something I love and share my work with anyone who is willing to give it some of their time.
NF: You write both short stories and poetry. What do you like about writing short stories?
MM: Short fiction was something I’d never really written much of until I took a creative writing course in college, and my professor had us work in that length almost exclusively. I love being able to tell a story that’s engaging, drive home a theme, and know someone will be able to sit down and in minutes absorb what I’ve put on paper. I think a lot about the aspect of space and how a writer can really take a reader to a lot of places, even in a place as small as a micro.
I feel my process works pretty fast, and I feel like short fiction provides me an opportunity to work through some pieces I may not have approached if they needed to be novel or novella length.
NF: Your short stories cover a range of genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror). Which genre is your favorite, and why?
MM: I always say Stephen King has been and is still one of my favorite writers, and I’ve always loved the horror genre, primarily because of him. In my own writing though, I find it really difficult to pick one genre that stands out more than the others, because I think a lot of my work really blurs lines and often has a literary spin, even if it seems to gear towards a certain genre.
NF: What do you like about writing poetry?
MM: I’ve always really liked reading poetry and didn’t really start writing it until college. I love that poetry can convey so much emotion in so little space, but I also love, that at times, a poem may speak one way to one reader and a different way to another. I also think that because of the small spaces most poems take up, an image in a poem can really hit hard, and maybe even harder than a similar one in a story, because it is taking up that much more of the physical space provided.
NF: When is writing short stories better than writing poetry, and vice versa?
MM: There is not one set method for me, but oftentimes it is just which feels right, and my initial intuition on that has seemed to work almost all the time. I have swapped a few ideas that I initially thought of as stories to poems, but for the most part, my initial thought between the two has worked well. Otherwise, short stories for me tell a story or a snippet of a story, it’s more plot, but still with a focus on character many times. Poems tend to start with an image for me or an emotion, and there still may be elements of plot, and you’ll still oftentimes learn about the speaker, but it is more tailored to thought or emotion.
NF: I’ve found that the longer I write poetry, the more I remember my own childhood, and the more sensitive I am to the relationships around me. How has writing changed you?
MM: I think writing is a reflective process, and when writing poetry or even fiction, there is a semblance of truth and a semblance of self presented in the work. As far as changing me, I think writing adds an additional awareness of environment and self in a current state and helps you think about what you are thinking about at the moment, but also adds documentation of thought process, interests, etc. as the time between the written piece and current time expand.
NF: Now let’s talk about “Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities.” How did you choose the works that appear in this book?
MM: I’d been doing a lot of writing from around late October of 2020 through 2021, and I had a lot of material (stories and poems) and a few collections that were taking shape, one following a group of narrators and an auto shop now collected, finished and published as Oil Stains Like Rorschachs with Anxiety Press. Additionally, I began seeing the shape of something more abstract in nature, that didn’t follow a set of narrators or a single person telling a bunch of stories, but a similarity in theme or branches of themes, some elements that felt closely paired and a feeling that there was something there. I began pulling together everything that seemed to fit and shuffling pieces slightly in the order I’d originally selected. As I started to feel happy with the mix (down to around 15 pieces), I saw a few holes in my abstract storyline or order and wrote 6 other pieces specifically for the collection that filled in those holes. There was a late cut from the collection, a story I really like but that didn’t seem to quite fit, but otherwise, I was/am very happy with what I came up with: a collection of stories and poems that each stand individually, but collectively says something broader. My hope is that people will enjoy the collection as individual pieces or a collage of interconnected themes, or look for something broader or abstract in nature and find an arc to follow. There really isn’t a right way to read it and that’s one of the things I really love about the collection.
NF: I always enjoy your descriptions that appeal to the senses, especially in pieces like “The Chickadee’s Song” and “Green Grass.” How did you develop your descriptive skills?
MM: Really appreciate that and am glad you like that aspect of my writing! I think a lot of it is just a quiet observation of what is already right in front of me. Both pieces strike a contrast between rural and urban or natural and manmade, and all kinds of playoffs of scenes, sights, and sounds that I’ve walked through or near before. After observing, it is just a matter of putting the words to what I am seeing, and at that point, my mind and fingers are moving too quickly on the keyboard to figure out exactly where it is all coming from.
NF: Your writing is often influenced by your relationships with children, both as a teacher and as a father. Even when a piece deals with dark subjects, such as the emotional and physical scars children carry from their family life (“Crop Rotation”), there is still an element of sweetness. Conversely, you can turn sweetness upside down, and go dark (“Ray and the Frog,” “The Day the Little Mermaid Died”).
How do you manage that balance between light and dark, both in your work and home life, and as a writer?
MM: I think the world is full of both light and dark, and it is all about how they come into balance and how we deal with these aspects. The three pieces you mention take different looks at the darkness in the world and approach them with varied mindsets as well: the teacher in “Crop Rotation,” the father in “The Day the Little Mermaid Died” and the perpetrator in “Ray and the Frog.” Not one situation is just black and white or light and dark or good and bad, but varying shades of gray, and there’s really a lot that goes into each moment in life.
I think my writing reflects my thought process on the world, observing the evils or bad situations people have to wade through or sometimes put themselves in, and I think as a teacher at a high school, I see many students in these situations on a daily basis. As a parent, I hope to keep my children away from the bad or give them the tools to deal with it. When they inevitably come into contact with that is one aspect of “The Day the Little Mermaid Died” and why I think it’ll appeal to many that have children, know children, or even think back on their youth and their first interactions with that darkness of the world.
NF: “We Be Squirrels” takes the reader inside the imagination and emotions of a child. In the poem, imagination is more tangible and interesting than the real world. How much of this poem is based on your own childhood experiences, and how much is based on your own children?
MM: “We Be Squirrels” is a poem I wish I could jump into at times, and get away from whatever is going on or the difficulties of every day, and I guess in a way that’s what we writers do when we’re scribbling words in the moments we can. I hope everyone can relate to the concept of letting your imagination take over, as you stated, and I’d say I was a pretty imaginative kid overall. I hope the same for my children because I think that has a creative element to it and is just a part of being a kid.
NF: Several of your stories (“Spud the Potato Farmer,” “Green Grass”) deal with how to survive in a hostile environment. If you are willing, please describe your own experiences that you drew from to write these stories.
MM: Hostile environments are something we all see at some point, at least in my opinion. “Spud the Potato Farmer” and “Green Grass” both outline the situation, which can be brought on by others, as in Spud’s case, or a situation as in the case of the narrator in “Green Grass,” but it is really all about how we deal with these situations or cope with these situations that matter. “Spud the Potato Farmer” is based once again around observations and thoughts as a teacher, but also as someone who went through school. “Green Grass” probably spurred from my family moving and takes root in that. My general thought process or reaction, when confronted with hostile environments or obstacles, is closer to the thought process of the narrator in my “Green Grass” story, but I think Spud’s story and reaction are probably one people will see a lot of truth in as well.
NF: Some of your stories (including “Mac the Pirate,” “In the Weeds,” “287 Riverview Road,” “Crudely Crafted Characters,” “11:11”) are so fantastic, the events and images are so unexpected, how do you come up with these ideas?
MM: So glad you liked them and I agree that many of these have that surreal edge to them. Someone once said that I always seem like I’m thinking about multiple things at once, and I’m still not sure if that is a compliment or criticism, but I feel that is where a lot of my writing in general stems from, and pieces like these reflect that pretty well.
Sometimes my writing is spurred on by a certain phrase, “in the weeds” which is a common phrase in kitchens for being behind…something I learned while working at LongHorn Steakhouse for a couple of years in my 20s. Other writing is spun from everyday situations like how “Crudely Crafted Characters'' started. My daughter and I were actually using chalk on our deck and I’m a pretty terrible artist, so that’s where the title came from because in my mind they truly were crudely crafted, and then my imagination just ran wild, like the squirrels again I suppose. “11:11” is a riff on that saying, “11:11, make a wish” and then I just turned it upside down. My wife and I had seen enough houses in the number of times we’ve moved to imagine a scenario like “287 Riverview Road,” so that’s where that one jumped off. “Mac the Pirate” was spun out of a writing prompt or theme call from a journal. Ironically, it was not accepted there, even though I really love(d) the piece! It was quickly picked up by Bombfire, and fits really well into this collection too, so I’m happy about that. Writing pieces that go toward the surreal or really go off the deep end is so fun because it is very outside of what I normally write, and I’m glad for the questions you’ve provided that have really tackled many different aspects of my writing in general.
NF: What are you writing now?
MM: Now that Oil Stains Like Rorschachs has dropped with Anxiety Press I’ve been focusing a lot on promoting that and continuing to promote Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities, but it is always thinking ahead and about what is next to and this question really hits that. I’m always writing something! I still have a pile of short story and poem ideas that I’ve been slowly chipping away at, but they always seem to pile back up…not complaining though because I realize that’s a good thing. Also, I’ve been trying to keep up with the #vss365 prompts, but have had to slide a few into a single day here and there because of a recent move for my family. I’m closing in on the end of a couple of collections at this point, and have a few more pieces to write to finish others off.
NF: Do you have any new projects in mind, and if so, what are they?
MM: I’m working on compiling some more pieces (formerly published, written, and newly constructed) into another couple of collections, but not sure when to peg a time to send these out to publishers because they are still mainly in the curation phase at this point, and I’ll need to go back through and read the whole collections to see how they flow.
I’m also jumping back into longer-form work as well. I had a story published with Bear Creek Gazette for their apocalypse contest and wrote another one to that prompt as well. The other piece that was not submitted to the contest was a 3,000-word story, but as I was writing it, I saw places where expanding would really strengthen and benefit what is being presented, and in the end, I realized the piece would work so much better in a novella or novel length. I’m excited to continue down this road with this story because I really haven’t written anything in long form since around October 2020. Those pieces are still buried in my computer waiting to have eyes on them at a later date too!
NF: Do you have a vision for where you want to be as a writer 5 years from now, and 10 years from now?
MM: I feel my process has continued to change and evolve so much since I jumped back into writing in late 2020, and I’m excited to see where everything goes over the next 5 years, 10 years, and beyond…but I’m not sure where I’ll be at that point. My hope is the ideas will still be flowing, and I’m sure I’ll be working on several projects at once, which is sort of the usual for me. I can say I’ll probably have sent out collections or books to publishers again in that time and hopefully had a chunk more work published online so people can check it out.
My other hope as a writer over the next 5 or 10 years is to have more conversations like this about my work and sincerely thank the people that have checked it out so far, because it truly is so cool to be able to share my ideas and work with people around the world.
Thanks again for doing this interview with me. I really appreciate the support and I’m so impressed with the questions, they were so well thought out! I enjoyed connecting with you through this and hope to do it again soon!
“Twenty-Four Poems,” available at:
Published by Meat for Tea Press
In a career spanning more than 50 years as a working writer, John Yamrus has published 35 books (29 volumes of poetry, 2 novels, 3 volumes of non-fiction, and a children’s book). He has also had nearly 3,000 poems published in magazines and anthologies around the world. A book of his SELECTED POEMS was just released in Albania, translated into that language by Fadil Bajraj, who is best known for his translations of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bukowski, Ginsberg, Pound, and others.
His most recent book is SELECTED POEMS: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (Concrete Mist Press, 542pp).
For a review of this book: http://www.compulsivereader.com/2022/08/19/a-review-of-selected-poems-the-directors-cut-by-john-yamrus/
A number of Yamrus’ books and poems are taught in college and university courses. He is the most widely-known proponent of the minimalist style of poetry.
NF: I was taken by your first poem in the collection, “i remember the last time.” It was a coming-of-age poem that was both sweet and sad. Please tell me more about that time.
JY: I think that everything I write is coming-of-age, whether it’s me at ten years old or in my 70s...no matter if it’s something that actually happened to me or something I’m makin’ up...in one way or another it’s all happened and happening...all part of a whole and the hole is in me and I’m just writing, trying to fill it. I know that’s an arrogant and ignorant answer, but it’s the only one I’ve got.
NF: You have a couple of poems (“this guy,” “he,” “why do you write,” “it seems”) that speak to your attitude about your poetry. Why do you say it is nothing special?
JY: Because it is...nothing special. I mean...it’s ALL special...anyone’s work is special. I never thought because I’m a writer that anything I do is different or special. It’s all part of the whole. I really wish I was better at other things...I can’t snake a toilet or fix a pipe...there’s not much of anything other than writing that I AM good at, so in many ways I’m less than special.
NF: You make fun of other poets and what poets have to put themselves through as part of the creative life (“the poet sent me,” “he read,” “i think”). What are your expectations of other poets?
JY: I don’t have any expectations of anyone. I’ve got my wife and my dog and my books...beyond that, what more could I ever want or expect? And as for making fun of poets...that’s low-hanging fruit. They’re an easy target. Most put themselves up on a pedestal and it’s fun to take a shot.
NF: I laughed at “i’ve,” your poem about rereading Hemingway (who is one of my favorite authors). How do you think your growth as a writer has changed your attitude toward other authors?
JY: The older I’ve got my feelings about guys like Hemingway have changed...Hemingway (especially) used to bore the shit out of me...as a kid, reading stuff like OLD MAN AND THE SEA and some of his other books, I just didn’t get it...I was looking for too much...and now, reading him at my age, I can see that just a little is more than enough. So, now, in just the last year or two, I’ve re-read just about all of Hemingway and much of Fitzgerald and the one I’m still having trouble with is Henry James...although Washington Square is a darn good book...it also might be one of his shortest.
As for my attitude toward any of my contemporaries...I think most of them are lazy. Most of them sit around doing too much talking about what they’re going to do...waiting for inspiration...do you know what I mean? I have more respect for writers who do the deed every day than for writers who’d rather sit around talking about it. Journalists...they’re real writers...I’d like to see some of my contemporaries try and come up with something new and different and real every day, every day, every day. That’s hard. It takes a real writer to write like that.
NF: It’s obvious that you love dogs. Tell me about the dog you wrote about in “it was.”
JY: I could talk about my dogs forever. There’s been five of them, so far. All of them different and all of them fun. Anyone who’s ever had a pet knows the feeling of sadness and loss and the heartache of coming home and staring at the bowl that’s never gonna be used again...of cleaning the windows out front and the glass on the back door one last time. That hurts. Poems like that are easy to write because everyone can relate to them...and if someone can’t, I don’t care to know them.
NF: How did you meet the woman in the poem, “years ago?”
JY: Her name was Claire Henry and she was a real treasure. I don’t think she was 5 feet tall, but she was a bundle of energy and like I say in the poem she was in Paris in 1927 on the day Lindberg landed and she wasn’t a writer, but she worked on a whole lot of magazines that published science fiction way back when and she knew guys like Bradbury and Asimov and she made the best clam chowder in the whole wide world.
NF: Several poems describe things you did when you were younger (“TJ,” “i was 13”). How much of what you write is based on memory and how much is based on imagination?
JY: Oh, the poems like that are ALL memory...selective memory, for sure...but they’re all true. As true as I remember. I did a tv show last year, and I told a story about how I met my wife and the next day we were watching a replay online somewhere and Kathy turned to me and said “that’s not the way it happened...that’s a complete and total lie”, and I looked at her and said “when you write your own book you can set the record straight.”
NF: Several of your poems deal with unresolved pain, with situations we can’t control (“he was once,” “the novels,” “things”). How do you personally grapple with these issues?
JY: If you figure out an answer to that one, let me know.
NF: What’s your next project?
JY: Well, the garage is a royal mess and there’s a lot of dog poop out in the yard...beyond that, I’ll have to let you know.