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
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.