Monday, July 20, 2015

Review + Interview: The Dogs I Have Kissed - Trista Mateer

The Dogs I Have Kissed
Trista Mateer
Series: N/A
Genre: Poetry
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Back in March, I posted a review of Honeybee, a poetry collection by the wonderfully poignant Trista Mateer. Today, I'm not only reviewing her latest work, but I had the amazing chance to conduct an interview to share with you here! I'll try to keep the review succinct because the interview is a bit long and I really want you all to read the whole post -- I considered, when I was asking the questions, doing the post in such a way that I would incorporate the answers into the review, but after reading the answers I decided I wanted the full answers the way they were written because they're so detailed and full of personality.

Anyway, I gave the book 4.5 stars, like the last one, but the weight of the 4.5 stars is different -- it comes from different places, still shows growth and maturity as a writer and person. These poems showcase heartbreak and heartache, love and pain, life experiences laid out in book format. The contents of the book seem to be carefully strung together rather than poems put together rapidly out of rage or loss or what have you (which wouldn't be a bad thing, just an altogether different experience). And it's all done brilliantly.

One of my favorite parts of her writing and the reason I got into her as a poet, was the ability it had to strip you to your core. I would come across her pieces on my Tumblr dashboard and be absolutely enraptured by the way she could spin words and make them belong to you. It's easy to see she puts so much of herself into her poetry which creates such raw, evocative pieces, which I appreciate as a writer, as a human, as anyone really.

I promised I'd keep this short and I'm known to ramble so I'm going to stop myself before I go on and on although I know I could but I'm just going to say this book was beautifully constructed and an excellent demonstration of how masterful one can be with words. The writing was powerful, memorable, and relatable -- I'm sure most of the people reading found themselves feeling that the book was written for them, found themselves taken back in time, even if the type of pain they experienced wasn't quite the same as what was being written about. This was a book I devoured in one sitting and I know anyone reading will do the same.

- Noor

Now, before you all leave, stick around for an interview with the author! Trista Mateer is very insightful, and fun (and she takes cute selfies). I promise you'll love reading it!

Interview with Trista Mateer
Tumblr | Twitter

Q1: How was the writing process for this book different than the writing process for Honeybee? As a sort of "part two" to this question, on your Tumblr, you posted two 8tracks playlists, one that you said was generally what you listened to through the writing of Honeybee and one through the writing of The Dogs I Have Kissed. How are the emotions evoked by those songs and the experiences behind them different this time around and how are they the same? Are there particular songs that in your mind are paired with particular poems? 
Playlist 1 (Honeybee) | Playlist 2 (TDIHK)

The writing process was different because, as you mention later in this interview, the poetry in Honeybee was (for the most part) written as it occurred with no intention of coming together into something cohesive. It was written for me, as someone who already knew the whole story. Everybody reading it is just looking in the windows — if that makes sense. The Dogs I Have Kissed is something I’ve been working on for a while. It’s something told not through windows but through a door. I wanted it to make sense to you. I wanted you to understand that I stood on a lot of rickety bridges and still wanted to walk out onto that last one. Honeybee was for me; and The Dogs I Have Kissed is for you and (as Yena Sharma Purmasir put it) "for anyone who has ever felt the tough underside of love”.

As for the playlists and the tones behind the songs and the books, Honeybee (and its corresponding playlist) is sad and desperate. It’s an ache. The whole thing is one long, dull ache. The Dogs I Have Kissed goes through a clear emotional shift from something angry and uncoordinated, to something hopeful and understanding. Despite the note it ends on, I think it’s clear that it’s a different kind of sad.

HB: I mean some are super clear, like “Wrecking Ball” goes with “The Night I Listed to Wrecking Ball 44 Times in a Row” and “The One That Got Away” inspired “The One That Got Away (Because She Had To)”. The poem “You Could Be Happy” is named after the Snow Patrol song. I wrote “I Still Can’t Believe We’re Not Even Friends” after listening to Taylor Swift’s “I Almost Do” on repeat for a couple of gross, self-pitying hours. On a personal level, our songs are on there.

TDIHK: “Baseball, But Better” by Say Anything was part of what inspired the poem “The Most Magnificent Pastime”. But the Dogs playlist was sometimes more about tone/feelings brought on by certain songs than about the songs themselves and how they played into my life. Although “Pirates” by Jenny Owen Youngs pairs with “I Want to Fuck You but Your Mother’s in Town” both in theme and because she played it at a concert I was at with the man that poem is about. And “Last Kiss” — I think Taylor Swift sings all of my breakup songs??

Q2: What type of writer are you? Some people sit down and spill whatever's in their minds and what comes out is what comes out. Some people start with an idea for a poem and think about it and perfect it and spend a lot of time thinking about the words. Some people are in between and some people are on a completely different scale, so how do you write down your thoughts?

I think technically I’m in between, although I don’t tend to do a lot of planning on my poetry. My preference is, like the first option you listed, when things come sort of organically. It’s not always that easy, though. Sometimes I have to work at my job, just like everybody else. Most of the time I just get the feeling that I need to write something, so I sit down and write it. But sometimes things require planning, research, fact checking, etc. It’s all relative. There’s no wrong way to do it.

Q3: Do you have a favorite poem from TDIHK or a favorite few? (I'm partial to Oranges and 4/23 but that could change depending on my mood or what day it is.)

Oranges is one of my favorite poems, not just from The Dogs I Have Kissed, but out of everything I’ve ever written. It just came so easily. I was trying to sleep and I had this urge to text someone “come eat a bowl of oranges off of me” but instead of actually doing it, I opened up a text draft in my phone and wrote the whole poem. (Then I texted it.)

Other strong contenders are: This Is How New Religions Start, Peaches, and I Swear Somewhere This Works.

Q4: When did you first start writing poetry? Do you meddle in any other types of writing?

I think I first started writing poetry around sixteen or so — coincidentally right around the first time I ever had my heart stomped on — but I didn’t start “really writing” until a few years ago, maybe nearly twenty-two. I think it took so long because poetry was never really what I intended to do. I’ve always written other things: short stories, essays, flash fiction, songs, unfinished novels. I’ve had it in my head since I was about ten years old that I wanted to be a novelist. Unfortunately I find it terribly difficult to finish anything longer than a few pages before I’m rushing off and starting the next project, so poetry is just what kind of ended up working for me.

Q5: If you'd like to throw some wisdom at anyone aspiring to publish his or her works, what did you think was the most unexpected or unforeseen part of the publishing process? What difficulties did you encounter and what went smoothly?

Well, self publishing can be difficult if you’re unfamiliar with formatting things and basic graphic design (or don’t have someone willing to help out), but publishing with a press has its own array of little troubles to navigate — especially if you’re not used to working with/under other people in regards to your work. For the most part, everything has gone smoothly enough for me. The most unexpected/unforeseen issue for me was actually just how many people in my life were going to make a point to go out and buy a copy of my book(s). I know that doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but it was one thing to write confessionally on the internet and another thing completely to have this stuff somewhere my grandma could read it. Really though, as long as you’re aware of what you’re getting into and you explore all of your options, there’s nothing too incredibly difficult about publishing. I will say that (especially when self publishing or working with a small press) you have to be 100% willing to market yourself aggressively. Nobody is going to know your work exists if you don’t tell them.

Q6: Honeybee was said to have been assembled more or less in the order it was written. Did you use any poems you wrote from that time period but didn't publish in TDIHK or was everything in this book from an entirely new chapter in your life?

The poetry in The Dogs I Have Kissed briefly covers my entire dating history so far, so they do include (three, maybe?) poems about the Honeybee period. However those poems were written more recently and specifically for this book. While all of the poetry in Honeybee was written as events occurred, the poetry in TDIHK is split pretty evenly between retrospective pieces and “events as they unfold” pieces. The last few poems in that book were actually written as I was putting the book together. The ending wasn’t, ah— exactly the direction I thought the book was headed in.

Q7: Was there anything you did when publishing your first collection that you made a point to do differently this time around, and anything you would do differently if you were to publish another book, whether it was content-wise or behind-the-scenes?

I don’t know if it really counts, but I try really hard not to name names anymore. When people ask if a poem is about them, I mostly shrug. If they don’t know then they don’t need to know. Looking back on it, I have some problems with the way I handled the last book. I know people like it because of its honesty, but I wish I’d let my heart break a little quieter last time.

On a less personal note, this book was copyedited and I had some other poets read through it to let me know everything made sense and flowed okay. That was a change from the last one. With Honeybee, I had a few people read certain poems but for the most part the whole thing was slung together and sent to print very quickly. And I think for the next one (if I do it myself) I’m going to have the interior layout done professionally. 

Q8: I've been following you on Tumblr forever and love everything you post so I was beyond excited when you emailed. I would love to talk poetry forever, but I think these are enough questions for now. To leave off with, I'd just like to ask if there's anything else you wanted to say or add? Any comments about your book or about your writing in general or anything you want at all that I didn't ask you, feel free to let it out!

I’d just like to say that I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk with you about poetry!! And that I post free content on my blog pretty much daily, so buying the books (either in print or on Kindle) is a great way to show support and make sure I’m still able to do this stuff. I’m also doing biweekly articles at Words Dance literary magazine about spoken word poetry and all sorts of sweet things!! And I’m currently working on a collaborative project or two, as well as another collection of my own and possibly a little spoken word album on bandcamp. There’s a ton of stuff in the works!

Have you ever felt like something was written just for you?
Let us know in the comments!

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