How did you become a writer?
I didn’t write until I was in my early 20s, and then I started out with short fiction. After a hiatus of 10 years, I continued with short fiction for another 3 years before I tried poetry, which seemed much more suited to my interest in writing as an activity and it was a much better match for the way my brain processes ideas, images, and sound. In fact, it’s such a natural fit, I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure out. I didn’t take any workshops after that, though I did a few short-term short fiction-writing workshops. And I didn’t pursue any creative writing education. I did attend a 4-month weekly poetry workshop a couple of years ago, after my first book was published. After a few short story publications, and once I started with poems, it was several years before I sent any out to journals. I sent a chapbook manuscript of about 20 poems to a small press in Victoria BC and that became the chapbook Oneiric. Three years later, I sent a book manuscript to my current publisher.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Early on, when I wanted to write fiction, my influences were largely American and English. Richard Ford, Vladimir Nabokov, Richard Yates; Angela Carter, Doris Lessing, Jhumpa Lahiri, Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie, Raymond Carver, J. D. Salinger, Russell Smith. As for teachers, strangely enough I had some excellent high school English teachers who taught me to love poetry; though I never thought to try to write poetry until decades later.
As for poetry, I admit I have many gaps in my reading, but poets that have a hold on me include John Keats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Mina Loy, Michael Hofmann, Mary Ruefle, Maureen N. McLane, Lavinia Greenlaw, August Kleinzahler, Don Coles, Paul Muldoon, and some of my contemporaries in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, and the U.S. (the latter to a lesser extent).
When and where do you write?
Strangely, I’m not really a night-owl, but I do tend to write late at night, with some frequency; things seem to flow more easily. During the day I prefer to go somewhere extremely quiet (several libraries near where I live offer this ‘golden’ silence) but often home on the weekends works just as well.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a second full-length collection of poetry, Stranger, which will be published in the fall.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I think if I was forced to produce creative work on a weekly or monthly basis, I might find myself feeling anxiety about a lack of material. As it is, my form of writer’s block is just a psychological condition in which I am convinced I will just never have anything more to say in poetry-form ever again. This is a thought I get usually about once every month or two. It’s also a sense that somebody else must have written the poems I’ve already written, since my brain feels entirely empty of ideas, sounds, words, etc. that would approximate what I’d done previously. But that also might be the condition of boredom that eventually leads to writing again….
What’s your advice to new writers?
I think for poets, it would be to read as much as possible. It sounds very mundane, but one needs to understand, through reading, what is possible, inspirational, or aesthetically pleasing. It’s a great help. And the other piece of advice is to learn not to expect responses or reactions (good or bad) to one’s work. I simply expect indifference as a default. While writing might be about gaining a readership or an audience, on another level it has to be entirely not about those things. My sense is that not many writers cultivate this attitude at first.
Nyla Matuk is the author of Sumptuary Laws (2012), nominated for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for a best first book of poetry in Canada. Poems have appeared in Canadian, American and U.K. journals including PN Review, Ladowich, Prelude, The Walrus, and The Fiddlehead, among others, and in the anthologies New Poetries VI (Carcanet, 2015) and Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012 (Tightrope Books). A new book of poems, Stranger, appears from Véhicule Press in 2016.