Mather Schneider Interview Reposted

Math­er Schnei­der is a 40-year-old cab dri­ver from Tuc­son, Ari­zona. He is hap­pi­ly mar­ried to a sexy Mex­i­can woman. His poet­ry and prose have appeared in the small press since 1993. He has one full-length book out by Inte­ri­or Noise Press called Drought Resis­tant Strain and anoth­er full-length com­ing in the spring of 2011 from New York Quar­ter­ly Press.

I have declared you the most inter­est­ing troll in the small press uni­verse. How about that?

Ha! You know just how to com­pli­ment a guy, Rusty. Thank you, my eyes are welling. I declare you the most down to earth edi­tor in the small press.

In all seri­ous­ness, you have an addic­tion to telling the truth, even when it hurts. Is that for some effect, or do you feel as if you have a mis­sion from God, like the Blues Broth­ers?

I am no great truth teller. It’s just that I don’t like to be bull­shit­ted or to bull­shit oth­ers. There is no big plan or sweep­ing phi­los­o­phy behind what I do. I do believe in being hon­est, but do not believe in uni­ver­sal truth. I act on instinct most­ly, just like I write. When my instinct tells me I am full of shit, I try to lis­ten to that too. I can admit when I’m wrong or have over-react­ed or have writ­ten a shit­ty poem. That hap­pens a lot.

Your poems are tight and true, some of the best in the small press, I'd say. How long does it take you to come up with enough mate­r­i­al for a book, and how do you decide what goes in and what gets left out or trashed?

Wow, thank you for that, Rusty. I only have the one full length book of poet­ry, and it cov­ers a span of about ten years. I was writ­ing and pub­lish­ing in small jour­nals long before then (first pub­lished poem in 1993) but I didn’t think most of it was worth putting into a book. For book-wor­thy poems, I looked for stay­ing pow­er, poems that you would want to read more than once, more com­plex poems, poems with meat, longer poems. I want­ed vari­ety, in tone and struc­ture, and I tried to look for any con­nect­ing imagery. In DROUGHT RESISTANT STRAIN I put in a lot of poems that involved the nat­ur­al world, desert ref­er­ences, dry­ness. But in the end the poems had to be the most emo­tion­al­ly and artis­ti­cal­ly rever­ber­at­ing. David Bates, the pub­lish­er of the book at Inte­ri­or Noise Press, helped a lot with this process.

In the var­i­ous small press faux fisticuffs you've had, with HTML­giant and var­i­ous oth­er edi­tors and lit­mags, what always comes through for me is that your accusers don't real­ize that what you're say­ing is pret­ty accu­rate. It's as if your per­sis­tent smart-assed­ness some­how lets them off the hook for what they pro­duce that's pure bilge, no mat­ter who writes it for them. Why do you sup­pose that is? I mean, you've pub­lished, what a thou­sand or so poems? Your 'attacks' have the true gen, as Hem­ing­way would say, and are backed up by these poems, yet no one seems to be able to give you the ben­e­fit of the doubt that you know what you're talk­ing about.

My “per­sis­tent smart-assed­ness some­how lets them off the hook”, that’s fun­ny, I think you’re on to some­thing. I am rude, I do not take the seri­ous writ­ers as seri­ous­ly as they take them­selves, and some of them just get so mad at me that they lit­er­al­ly can’t see straight, and stop hear­ing. And then of course after­ward they can’t read my poet­ry or sto­ries with any objec­tiv­i­ty or per­son­al hon­esty. They don’t care what I’m say­ing, all they think is: look at this left-foot­ed fool yelling in church. I know peo­ple don’t like to be crit­i­cized. I know it hurts, but there’s more to it than sav­ing peo­ples’ feel­ings, isn’t there? There’s more to it than this hyper­bol­ic per­ma-smile. The idea of get­ting stronger from crit­i­cism or of rolling with the punch­es nev­er occurs to them, only moral out­rage. If a per­son gets whacko-upset at some rude com­ments from me, then that tells me they must not have heard any­thing like that before. They must nev­er have been crit­i­cized, real­ly crit­i­cized, in their whole lives. They must nev­er have been told they are full of shit, or to shut up. Can you imag­ine what pro­tect­ed lives most of these writ­ers have lead? So many of them come from com­fort­able, priv­i­leged back­grounds, and it just gets old lis­ten­ing to them com­ple­ment each oth­er, watch­ing them worm around and rub against each oth­er, play­ing grab-ass, writhing and gleek­ing in ecsta­sy over luke­warm lasagna. Every­one likes to talk about vari­ety and bal­ance in antholo­gies and mag­a­zines, with equal air-time for males, females, beings of col­or, dinosaurs, etc. But, when all the writ­ers who make up this rain­bow of artis­tic vision come from sim­i­lar eco­nom­ic back­grounds, sim­i­lar edu­ca­tion and train­ing in the art of mod­ern poet­ry, it’s no sur­prise that all the poet­ry sounds pret­ty much the same, with the same tone, and with all the edge of a but­ter knife. Have you seen the Native Amer­i­can poet J.P Danc­ing Bear late­ly? He looks like Rush Lim­baugh and is now writ­ing like every oth­er MFA clone. The idea of a mix of voic­es or a bal­ance in jour­nals or antholo­gies is almost always pure boloney. How many cab dri­vers they got in those fuck­ing antholo­gies? There is a very des­per­ate, pathet­ic need to be nice, to be fair, to be liked. Writ­ers want so bad­ly to be thought of as intel­li­gent, wise, cre­ative, attrac­tive and above all, cool. It’s about con­trol and dis­tance and smooth vel­vet. It becomes more impor­tant than the writ­ing, it becomes fash­ion. What hap­pens when some writer is found to have cheat­ed on his wife, or lied some­where, or made fun of the female sex, or lost con­trol some­how? He is cru­ci­fied, his face is stomped on, his head is chopped off and he’s buried with a smug and sar­cas­tic eulo­gy. Then they turn around and hype their inter­net bud­dy, “Sleep­ing Inu­it” as the next great lit­er­ary genius.

What's your favorite poem that you've writ­ten, and can we pub­lish it here with the inter­view?

Four of the best poems I think I’ve ever writ­ten are sched­uled to appear soon in NYQ and Rat­tle and I can’t give them to you, though I’d like to. From what I can choose from, I’d have to say BETWEEN US AND IT, which is a poem in DROUGHT RESISTANT STRAIN. It’s one of the many poems I’ve writ­ten that were inspired by my wife, who is Mex­i­can.

BETWEEN US AND IT

 

I’m a white Amer­i­can and she’s Mex­i­can
but we’re try­ing to make it work.
We’ve moved in togeth­er.
There’s a dump­ster out­side our bed­room win­dow
15 feet away,
a cement block wall
between us and it,
a gray cement block wall that’s full of air
and means noth­ing.
The dump­ster belongs to the oth­er apart­ment build­ing,
the last of the expen­sive white ones
before it turns Mex­i­can.
At night me and my girl­friend
are fright­ened by peo­ple
throw­ing things into the dump­ster.
The nois­es are sud­den and vicious, like thun­der
or war, as if they are so proud,
as if it was the surest thing in the world
to be throw­ing away a microwave at mid­night.
Lat­er in the night we hear the Mex­i­cans
tak­ing things out of the dump­sters
to fix and resell.
The nights are hot in the desert in the sum­mer
and in our sweaty sleep
the blan­ket on the bed gets pushed
and mashed togeth­er
between us.
We call it “the bor­der.”
Even on the hottest nights we can’t
toss it away.

 

You and I argued once briefly about the (bale­ful, for me) influ­ence Bukows­ki has on inter­net writ­ers, and you point­ed out your sources of plea­sures in read­ing are a half-gen­er­a­tion removed from him: Hem­ing­way, Celine, Miller. Why not more con­tem­po­raries?

I was drunk when we argued, which is noth­ing new. For some more con­tem­po­rary names: Fred Voss was an influ­ence on me, Jim Daniels, Hay­den Car­ruth, Cor­so, Berri­g­an, Ger­ald Lock­lin, Von­negut, Cor­mac McCarthy, Tom Rob­bins, Steve Rich­mond, James Cain, Ray­mond Chan­dler, Stephen King. I often like the work of Charles Harp­er Webb, Ron Koertge, Bob Hic­ock. I like Jim Valvis and Mark Wis­niews­ki and Mike Pow­ers and Dave New­man and David Her­nan­dez. William Tay­lor Jr. hits the mark some­times and so does Justin Hyde. Not too many gals. Sue me. In gen­er­al, though, I don’t feel that many writ­ers right now are doing much at all, which is arro­gant as hell to say, and I don’t mean to say that my stuff is the end goal, because I know it is not and that I have a long way to go. But there doesn’t seem to be much ener­gy in the air, it’s too stuffy, too care­ful. There’s always this prob­lem with lit­er­a­ture, it seems. And the poets who aren’t too care­ful or are just too lazy, peo­ple like Rob Plath, who seem to come from an emo­tion­al­ly hon­est and boil­ing core, but who just don’t work quite hard enough with the words.

You're one of the few writ­ers I know who write about your job as a major por­tion of your writ­ing. Did the poems just come that way, or did you decide you were going to pro­vide a work­ing-class man's point of view in a world where that's begin­ning to be rare?

I’ve always writ­ten about my life. I don’t have much imag­i­na­tion, I’m not that kind of writer. I am more of a chron­i­cler or jour­nal­ist. When I stray from real­i­ty too much I stut­ter and trip myself up, and my bull­shit detec­tor starts wail­ing. I’ve writ­ten about being a land­scap­er, a jan­i­tor, a bar­tender, wait­er, a bill col­lec­tor, a fish­er­man, work­ing in a lum­ber mill, all that stuff, as it came along. For the last sev­er­al years I’ve been a cab dri­ver, and believe it or not it’s the best job I’ve ever had. Ha! Not brag­ging. There is noth­ing con­trived about it, it’s just life. What am I gonna write about? Ele­phants in my refrig­er­a­tor? Remov­ing my organs and putting them in jars before I go to sleep?

What do you do for fun besides read­ing and writ­ing?

I like to bicy­cle and go for very long bicy­cle rides, either alone or with my wife. We go to the desert a lot, and the near­by moun­tains, for hik­ing and dri­ving.

Talk about the new book that's com­ing out from New York Quar­ter­ly. Is it more of the same mate­r­i­al you've been writ­ing about, or some­thing new?

It will be out some­time this year, and will be called HE TOOK A CAB. I know, I know, same old sub­ject. Sor­ry! I think this book is very good, and most of the best poems have not been seen on the net, poems that are new and strong and that I am very proud of. Poems to hang my som­brero on. It will be about 100 pages, with a car­toon drawn by me on the cov­er, but much dif­fer­ent than DROUGHT RESISTANT STRAIN. I’m excit­ed about it. And of course there’s that nag­ging stu­pid hope in the back of my brain: maybe it will catch fire.

If you could ask all your crit­ics or fel­low com­bat­ants one thing, what would it be?

Stop mak­ing fun of my name. 

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One Response to Mather Schneider Interview Reposted

  1. Rusty says:

    In the serv­er crash, FCAC lost a lot of con­tent. As I find what's miss­ing, I'm repost­ing. Sor­ry for the pain in the ass.

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