An Interview with Poet Matthew Rohrer

An Interview with Poet Matthew Rohrer

CPR editor Jackson D. Smith recently sat down with the "funny and insightful, brilliant and humble" Matthew Rohrer to talk poetry pet peeves, the tough poems to write, and the role of the internet in today's literary world. 


Jackson Smith: Have you recently found yourself in conversation with another writer or artist?

Matthew Rohrer: Oh yes, just today. It was with my friend Joshua Beckman, we were talking about a couple of things. The two most exciting things are where he was working on a long book project that’s sort of a secret, but it’s a sort of docu-poetics project based on interviews. He was talking about going to visit some source material and trying to turn it into a really big document. Sorry, that’s super vague, but I’m really not supposed to be talking about it. But, we were talking about his new project. And then we were also talking about some forms of political resistance we might take, in the world these days.

JS:  How does geography or landscape influence your work? Do you need to be in a certain environment to write?

MR: That’s a great question. No, I do not need to be in a certain landscape to write, but I do much prefer the city, urban areas. I love the energy and all the people and the buildings and the kind-of rush that gives me energy.

JS: What is the poem that you have always wanted to write, but have not been able to?

MR: I think it would be the poem that has people laughing and crying at the end at the exact same time.

JS: Describe the value of being a published poet in an increasingly digital literary landscape.

MR: Hmm. I think the value is greatly diminished at this point honestly. I think the digital literary landscape is long on its way to being as important as the print one. People love printed poems, and I do, I probably fetishize the printed page. But it’s not necessary anymore, I don’t think. There are people whose fame is insanely great who have nothing to do with the printed page. Somebody like Rupy Kaur is a great example. She does have books out, now, but the books are the afterthought. Whereas for people in my generation the internet was the afterthought. You wanted to publish and then it would be cool if your poems wound up online then more people would see it. But now the printed matter is an afterthought at best, and in many cases not even necessary.

JS: Interesting, then what do you think the future of the printed poem is?

MR: I think they’ll be side by side. I could be wrong, but I don’t think poets are ever going to let go of the page, of paper. They love it even more than any form of writer does. And I think if you look at all the most beautiful tactile handmade books coming out today, they’re all poetry books, probably 90% poetry books. And presses are doing really beautiful, hand sewn things. If you look at my own publisher, Wave Books, those books are going to last longer than I am. They’re hand sewn, they’re solid, they’re beautiful. So, I don’t think poets are ever going to get rid of that. And I think there’s a feeling of reading quietly on your own on the page. You know? Its 10,000 years old or something. So, I don’t think that’s ever going to go away. But I think that there will be this equal tier of internet poetry. And people will do both, some people already do.

JS: What is your biggest pet peeve about your own writing?

MR: It’s that its too easy to keep writing the same poem every time I sit down.

JS: What about other writers' writing?

MR: That they keep writing the same poem all the time.

JS: How do you know when a poem is done?

MR: I know when my poems are done when I don’t see any more seams or shards in it, I don’t see the little cracks and shards. And I guess that’s a musical thing but its also digital thing.

JS: If you had to give your life a title what would it be?

MR: It would not be very exciting. I think it would be-- I’m looking at my bookshelf right now. I think it would be "Selected Poems".  

New York City based poet and alum of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Matthew Rohrer was born in Anne Arbor, Michigan. He is the author of 9 books of poetry, including A Hummock in the Malookas which was selected for the National Poetry Series by Mary Oliver, and most recently The Others, an epic poem about everyday life.