Interview with M. Alden Conducted by Holden Lyric

M. Alden – Angers, France

In terms of your writing, what do you feel poetry represents to you in your life?

At this moment, writing and especially poetry holds more importance than ever, because I’ve come to know that what I can fashion with pen and paper will almost infallibly better express whatever I can physically say. I cleave to writing because it is a way to consecrate certain ineffable moments, a way to actualise ephemeral memories and give life to something quotidien, and a manner of manifesting the most honest part of myself. The process itself varies depending upon the nature of the poem; that is to say, writing can either feel very methodical or like a verbal purge akin to exorcism. I think my best poems are those which have gone through both of these stages in their creation.

Who do you find your favorite writers to be?

Pablo Neruda and his epicurean verse will never cease to take my breath away. His anthology Ode to Common Things vitalizes the mundane and always gives me the sense that even alone with just a chair and table one isn’t quite alone. His last collection World’s End is one of my favorite anthologies for the way it harmonizes exquisite lyricism and harrowing tragedy within a vast thematic and historical scope. I’m relentlessly astonished as well by Emily Dickinson’s finesse with form; her poems are splendidly crafted with attention to form that enhances rather than dilutes the poignancy of the piece. As far as novelists, some of my favorites are Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Mary Shelley, C.S. Lewis, and Ayn Rand.

How do you feel the internet affects poetry?

Certainly it allows writers to claim a platform for their work, and I think there’s something special in designing a space that you feel compliments and best showcases your pieces. The volume of writing blogs and websites is enormous, and though that sometimes makes each poem feel like a drop in a virtual ocean, I believe it’s better to consider the proliferation of online publication as a wealth of perspectives and voices.  It’s also  a very dynamic venue for dialogue between the poet and the reader, which print publishing doesn’t always offer.

That said, there’s also a risk that comes with sites like WordPress that allows readers to “like” or “rate” poems, which is that the author fixates on the empirical to feel artistically validated. A sort of pandering can occur, a desire to feed into a certain style or visual in order to achieve statistical success. A poem rated 2 stars or “liked” by no-one may have much more depth and stylistic mastery than another that gains favor by merit of cultural references or cliches, and it’s hard as a writer to not compromise one’s personal voice in the name of views or ratings. So in a way, as much as it fosters accessibility and dialogue, the internet also runs a risk of relatively devalorising certain pieces.

Is there a place for poetry outside of the classroom?

Absolutely yes, and I think that there are more adept ways to examine poetry within the classroom that would promulgate more personal interest in the art. In most high school literature courses the emphasis is on classical form and diction, and the curriculum operates on a very cerebral level. Technicalities take precedence over visceral depth and the multilayered nature of the message embodied in a poem, which often forces students to leave their sentiments out of reading and experiencing poetry. Which is in itself tragic, because I fervently disavow that any poet worth reading employed form and excellent diction solely so that a pack of teenagers could muddle over every syllable. I’m quite thankful to have had a couple teachers who called us to read with a degree of introspection and self-awareness, which made the work at hand much more relevant and encouraged at least a few to take more interest in poetry outside of the classroom.

Do you feel as if only writers read poetry?

I don’t think so. Poetry has a universal honesty and beauty that touches more than just writers.  But I do think our propensity to place our deepest selves onto paper inclines us more than most towards poetry. Drawing from conversations I’ve had from other writers and from my own perspective, authors read voraciously as a manner of assuring ourselves we aren’t alone in this frenetic, dire need to put words to our bizarre cerebral entropy.

How do you feel about form in poetry?

I admire immensely writers who can implement form without losing the sense of what they wish to impart to the reader. Obviously it can bestow a rhythm and even musicality to a poem that can beautifully carry the verse and highlight the poet’s virtuosity. I think that often when people think of poetry their mind goes straight to rhyme and form, but those strict adherence to those elements aren’t what constitutes poetry at all. Poetry can just as potently echo diverse forms without aligning to the formula, and to me that feels the most natural.

Is it difficult for you to share poetry with people that you know in your three-dimensional life/people that know you out of the context of your work?

I’d really like to say I’ve reached a point of no-fucks-given about people I know reading what I publish, but I’m still acutely conscious of how they might interpret a poem and how their interpretation will color their view of me. When people are familiar with the writer I think (or perhaps “fear” would be a better word there) that there’s a natural tendency to find grains of reality within a piece. With Cityscapes for example, I have a short story in which the narrator gets baked and sleeps with a stranger, and when a few friends told me they’d bought the book I was thrilled, but also like, “Oh shit, are they going to think that that’s me?” Although a lot of my work is rooted in my life, it is often an abstract extrapolation from random seminal experiences, and though that’s true for virtually all poets, sometimes it’s easy for readers to forget. Artistic authenticity is so important, but it also renders the writer quite vulnerable.

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

At this moment I’m thankful to have the platform that I do to share my work, and I’ll continue posting on PPP as well as my own personal site well into the foreseeable future. When I get back to the States I’d like to pursue print publication as well as find venues for readings. Taking a step back though, I’ve never seen writing as my vocation, though I admit that my reticence to pursue writing academically and professionally also comes from a financial concern. So instead I would be very content to know that my work has resonated with readers in a way that fosters honest reflection and imparts a sense of humanity.

Do you feel poetry still has the power it once used to?

Oh absolutely. Though it seems that our culture valorizes literature less than in past centuries, poetry itself retains its power as the mouthpiece of generations, the expression of our collective grievances and desires, and a universally accessible art.

What is your ideal career?

I’m not entirely sure because I’d like to study for a bit longer before narrowing it down, particularly so that I can ascertain my professional fortes and what I can truly see myself doing for the rest of my life. My major, Global Studies, does not really prepare you for a specific career so much as it confers a wide body of knowledge. After I graduate next year I’d like to pursue a master’s degree in France to improve my languages and gain a more acute knowledge of intercultural relations. Somehow all the professional work I’ve done so far has always related to working with kids, and I’d like to continue with that one way or another, as well as find a way to use my lingual skills. So drawing from that, I think my dream job would be teaching languages or managing childcare at a refugee center.

What steps do you think we can take to make poetry more popular?

I don’t necessarily perceive a need to popularize poetry. It transcends superficial trend, and I hesitate to say that we should try to elevate its standing to any sort of cultural deity. Poetry will be found and read by those who have need of it.

What are some of your early writing influences? People/writers/environment, etc.

When I was little my mother would read aloud to my brothers and I almost every night, and that absolutely enchanted me. She gave every character a different voice and put so much verve into every page, that I used to lay there enraptured by the sense that words were coming to life, and how freaking cool it was that someone could evoke such thrill within a reader they’ve never met. That drew me towards literature from a very young age, and I’m immensely thankful for that.

Where have you traveled to?

So far the only country I’ve seen outside of the US is France, though I hope to experience a myriad of cities and nations before finishing my studies here. I don’t know if it counts much as travel, but moving to Austin, Texas and the atmosphere I found there had a fantastic, profound influence on my writing. It was the first time I was completely on my own, which was at once terrifying and empowering, and certainly a formative time that conferred the confidence that I needed to find myself here.

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