Vlad Savich: Today, my interlocutor is Nyla Matuk. Hi Nyla. Please tell me and our readers, what is literature for you? A profession, a hobby, pleasant pastime or medicine against depression?
Nyla Matuk: It’s none of those things for me; rather, a stylized way to organize, and also disorganize, the world.
VS: Do you want to say that the world has great power – something like an atomic bomb?
NM: I think words only have power for those who wish to heed them.
VS: Why people talk. I think a lot about this. Now I can tell. This is for lies. What do you think about it? Writing is the continuation of speech. So literature is also for lies?
NM: I think literature is in the service of truth and lies—see Nietzsche’s moral sense of these in that famous essay…Artifice can be put to use as a way to tell the truth—so, the use of metaphors yokes together disparate things in order to find truth in the likeness of those two things.
Literature is also perfectly able to skirt truth altogether if it wants. Respect for the intentions of the author are not automatically guaranteed.
VS: What are you writing, lie or truth?
NM: I think my confessional writing is the truth while I am writing, even editing, it; then later on I realize I may have distorted, that I chose to focus on one thing at the expense of another. I don’t think of the more elaborate and decorative poems as lies at all; they seem a very truthful way for me to use language. If I wrote fiction, I would have to lie constantly. I am such a terrible liar in real life and that’s probably why I don’t enjoy writing fiction, although I also tend to feel writing fiction is pure tedium, lying as tedium. I’m too impatient. Preoccupations of ‘poem’ and ‘language’ means for me imagining a new way of using language, or speaking through a persona which doesn’t feel the same as narrating. That, to me, is telling the truth – re-ordering everything.
VS: Russian poet Anna Akhmatova once said:
I wish you knew the kind of garbage heap
Wild verses grow on, paying shame no heed.
Tell me, please, from what are your poems born?
NM: Often, the sensuous conditions ready to hand, which prompt a re-ordering of language; sometimes, a situationist ad-hocery; a sense that the geography I see around me is telling me something about an incident in the past; a recollection of the sensuous conditions of a once-in-a-lifetime meeting in a foreign city.
VS: I like you live in Canada. However, I’m almost not familiar with Canadian literature. I think that many readers also know little about it. Tell me, please, about the Canadian authors. Who of them influenced your work?
NM: Strangely, I have no Canadian influences. Or rather, I once thought I had them, and then over time, looking back on my work, there is very little of those poets’ tendencies, so I was mistaken in claiming they were influences, early on.
VS: There are: music, ballet, architecture and etc. Poetry in your opinion is considered with what kind of art?
NM: I always think of architecture: I worked for almost seven years as an editor at an architecture magazine, and the odes (things-in-themselves) poems, and other sense- or object-meditation poems were begun while I was thinking about forms and space and the way forms suggest movement or the thing-in-itself.
VS: Architecture gives people at home: convenience, comfort. What gives mankind poetry. What is its benefit to me personally?
NM: It has no use and no benefit, although perhaps there is something you personally find beneficial: I wouldn’t know.
VS: Personally for myself, I found meaning in poetry. Because I am, a writer but the poet and the philistine are not the same. Tell me, please, poetry for aesthetes or for the people? Art for the sake of art or art for money?
NM: I don’t have a strong opinion about that question—I think art for art’s sake is true; but you could very probably make money from it and I don’t see a problem with that.
VS: Tell me, please, what prompted you to put your thoughts on paper for the first time?
NM: I had been thinking of being in Copenhagen, which I visited for 10 days in 2002; I wrote the poem a few years later but elsewhere-ness as an idea has run through all of the writing, ever since and even prior to the first poem.
VS: You live in Canada and in what country would you like to live, if you had a choice? Is it important for the writer of his place of residence?
NM: I think I’d prefer to live somewhere with a greater population density. There are many advantages to living in Canada that I don’t take for granted, but if I were given a choice, I might select according to city. So, in order of preference: London, UK; Montreal; Berlin; the Italian town of Ravello; somewhere quiet, by the ocean, perhaps in Maine.
I think for me place is tremendously important–for other writers, I can’t say.
VS: In my childhood I read lot of books. My favorite heroes were Spartacus, D’Artagnan, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood.
Do you have any favorite literary heroes?
NM: I liked Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew although my childhood concerns were usually not with people, but with environments/realities or animals, such as Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland, and Paddington Bear.
VS: What do you think about the fate of the printed book? Will it be replaced by electronic?
NM: I have always thought that would not happen—I think people who read poetry prefer a physical book—but who knows? I don’t have an e-reader and don’t feel the need to buy one, but that’s because I don’t mind carrying around a book. That said, if the books I was actually reading all at once (I usually have 3 or 4 going at the same time) could all be placed on the reader somehow, so I had those 4 at all times, it would be very, very wonderful.
VS: What do you think. Poetry to change the world or the world to change poetry?
NM: As Mahmoud Darwish said,
“I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet.”
VS: I heard this expression “in life you need to try everything.” Are there things you will never try?
NM: Oh definitely, there are probably a million things I won’t try; some of which people do every day: I won’t eat shrimp because they look like bugs. I won’t eat bugs. I’ll never skydive or parachute myself from a plane.
VS: How do you, as a poet, imagine an ideal world?
NM: Social justice.
VS: What is the reason why we can’t create an ideal world? Bad poets? Bad engineers? Bad people?
NM: Bad people, certainly.
Bad engineering, very likely, along with mainstream journalism which is almost entirely driven by ideological weight rather than narrative based on facts.
As for poets: those who attempt to address social injustice in their poems are perfectly welcome to do so, though I find the bad poems in this context look remarkably shallow because of the dearth of imaginative expression that so many bad poems have in common.
The badness of such a poem might rest on the use of cliché, or a moral judgment wrung out of a poorly sketched set of personal circumstances, and so on; this underscores an attempt to cash in on topics of social injustice and ultimately, is cynical as a raison d’etre for the poem. Thus, the poem even re-problematizes the injustice with its failure to stir empathy.
VS: The strangest place in which you had to visit?
NM: Les foufounes electriques, a dance club/bar in Montreal, circa 1987, when I had not seen anything else quite so strange.
VS: Who is your favorite literary hero?
NM: John Shade, who seemed oblivious to that delusional egomaniac, Charles Kinbote.
VS: What inspires you?
NM: Hills and fells, geography, paintings, everything Lygia Pape has ever created, forest walking paths, the rolling surf of the ocean, London, Montreal, Berlin.
Nyla Matuk is the author of two books of poetry: Sumptuary Laws (2012) and Stranger (2016). Nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award and the Walrus Poetry Prize, her poems have appeared in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., including The New Yorker, PN Review, The Walrus, Canadian Notes and Queries, and the New Poetries VI anthology published by Carcanet Press.
Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua.
*He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader.