Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Q&A with Matthew Guenette




Matthew Guenette is the author of the new poetry collection Doom Scroll. His other poetry collections include Vasectomania. He teaches composition and creative writing at Madison College, and he lives in Madison, Wisconsin.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your new collection?

A: This book was drafted during the pandemic, so a couple of years, though the bulk of poems were probably written during those first six months when everyone was staying home if they were able to, when everyone was masked, an end nowhere in sight.


This time was intense in our household; our kids were both grade-schoolers going to "school" via computer. It made me terribly anxious. I felt keenly, every day, that my kids were missing out on something vital, like friends, like playing games...I was so sad for them.


Q: The writer Sarah Freligh said of the collection, “One feels the eternal push-pull between generations, from the life his father begat him to his own worries as a father and the siren call from his Gen X self.” What do you think of that description?

A: I'm amazed when something I've written connects with anyone. It feels like a kind of miracle. I'm so thankful for and honored by Sarah's take on Doom Scroll; I think it's spot-on.


I hope my last three books (Doom Scroll, Vasectomania, American Busboy) have charted this journey of a Gen Xer into parenthood/responsibility, which includes a growing sense of how little time any of us actually have. I hope, too, that these books consistently choose the comic over the tragic as a way of seeing...


Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the poems) chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The original title had been Indexer, but [poet and University of Akron professor of English] Mary Biddinger challenged that, and of course I'm glad she did. Working with Akron means I'm working with an incredible group of artists. I trust Mary's vision always, her editorial insight is amazing.


For her, the calculus was probably obvious: given all the doom scrolling in the book, wouldn't  Doom Scroll seem like a smarter alternative, less abstract, but with a still palpable ambiguity, Doom Scroll as both a proper noun and verb, as a kind of action? That's how the title came about, by listening to Mary! 

Q: How did you decide on the order in which the poems would appear in the collection?

A: All credit goes to Sandra Simonds. She's been an invaluable voice for my last few books, suggesting an order for each one that shadows the poems with a kind of arc.


Doom Scroll begins with a dream poem for instance, and ends (I hope) in a realistically hopeful place. In between the first and last poem, a kind of oscillating pattern exists where poems spike up and down from each other in terms of mood and action. I want the book to feel fast, coherent, to turn from poem to poem and end somewhere far from where it started. Hopefully the order creates that.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have 100+ pages of new material I'm eager to start thinking about in terms of theme/structure. I've been writing about family, of course, but also thinking about a "we" that finds themselves always in the middle of something, with no beginning (other than birth) or end (other than death) in sight. It's more fun than it sounds! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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