Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Interview: Author Matthew Nolan

By: Crystal Clemons

I first discovered Matthew Nolan in October of 2006 when he befriended me on Myspace over our mutual love and appreciation for Sylvia Plath and the Bell Jar. I have since gotten my hands on my very own copy of his first book, Crumpled Paper Dolls, for which he has received national recognition, and a special place in my poetic heart as my muse, and favorite living poet. 
Reading Crumpled Paper Dolls was like reading my own journals and exploring my own mind, except from a male perspective. The book is a perfect blend of truth, beauty, darkness, magic, love, hurt, suffering, hope, sensuality, and light that makes it relatable, and enjoyable, to everyone. There truly is something for everyone in that book. Matthew's poems are what I consider to be true poetry: they make you think, feel, and see things a little differently. He is a refreshing breeze to the world of poetry, especially in these days when it seems to be a dying art. 
I consider Matthew Nolan and his work to be comparable to that of the high quality writers of past days, particularly Sylvia Plath, and I was so thrilled to be honored with an interview from him to learn more about his poetic journey. He is a brilliant mind that excelled in academia, but chose to pursue his dream of being a “starving artist,” while literally starving along the way. He published Crumpled Paper Dolls on his own, sold the copies out of his bicycle basket in New Orleans, and by a fluke of luck got accepted into the “inner circle” of the publishing world. He is a true poet, a true artist, and an all around awesome guy.

CC: Hi Matthew. First off, thank you so much for taking time to answer these questions and allowing us readers to get a little more of a glimpse into the man behind the beautiful, powerful, and provocative words.
So when you first published Crumpled Paper Dolls, your first book, you sold them out of your bicycle basket. How did it take off into the success you have now?

MN: I think I was looking at Barnes &, and I came across submit a book for a review. On a whim I just sent one book off, didn’t think anything about it. So then I heard back from them months later, A lady called from New York City and goes “Hey, we got your book you sent us.” She said they sent it down to the Southeast book buyer and that he had rejected the book and sent it back to New York. And then she said, “But the National book buyer looked at it and wanted to distribute it across the country.” I did not know anything. When I printed out my book I didn’t even have a barcode or a book description on the back of the book. I wrote it in Microsoft Word and I didn’t even know how to write a table of contents. That’s why Crumpled Paper Dolls is such a simple book, although it’s a beautiful book, because I just didn’t know. So, I guess to answer your question is that then I had to get a distributor in order to get into the Barnes & Noble bookstore and because I got a big distributor I didn’t really need a publisher. I was like my own publisher. I just wanted to do it myself and wanted total control and freedom over my book and didn’t want all that chaos.

CC: Do you ever get nervous having to deal with all those people on your own?
MN: Absolutely! Here I am an author right, and I’m calling New York City Fifth Avenue people that deal with Random House and deal with these people who publish thousands of titles. It’s totally intimidating, especially because I’m not a business person.

CC: What was it like seeing your book become successful, and to now be able to go into bookstores like Barnes & Noble and see your own book?

MN: It was surreal. When I lived in New Orleans back then I lived in a garage apartment and slept on the floor, I didn’t have a car, so I would walk to the Barnes and Noble, in the air conditioning, and write in my journal. It was almost kind of a street-life existence. And that bookstore now has my books and I was able to go back and see my book and see the work that I wrote in my journal printed and on bookshelves inside that store. It was incredible because I’ve still got that journal in my house and I never thought that connection would be made. I would go in there and sit in the coffee shop and write, then I’d browse around, then my book ended up being shelved in there with the same words I wrote. It’s bizarre.

CC: You were interviewed for the documentary ‘The State of Poem’ and for the series ‘Roadtrip Nation,’ your poems are being discussed in college classrooms, and you have a growing fan base that sees you as one of the more influential poets of this generation. Do you see yourself as successful, or do you still see yourself as an “average” guy?

MN: It doesn’t seem like I’m successful. Of course I’m just an average guy. As a writer, even though I’ve had this success, it’s not real because I’m just in my house. I remember a guy text messaged me from New Hampshire and said “I’m sitting in a Barnes & Noble store reading your book and you’ve got a fan now” and I had a friend who was displaced from Hurricane Katrina and she was like “I’m in Seattle and I saw your book at Barnes & Noble.” That isn’t real to me. I remember calling New York (bookstores) and I would ask them for my book and I would say who’s the author and they would say my name and I’d be like wow! Then they’d ask would you like me to hold it for you and I’d be like no. What I’m trying to say is I wasn’t there for any of that so it’s like I don’t see the success. If you’re an actor and you get done with a play and you get a big applause then the success seems more tangible, but it’s intangible because it’s all just stuff people are telling me. Like if I had the money to fly around to every major city in the country and to pull out my book and go wow look at where it ended up, that would be more real to me.

CC: You write some pretty honest, raw things touching on topics that most are not as inclined to open up about, let alone share with the world. When you were writing, did you ever worry about the reception of that honesty by other people? More particularly, how did you feel about your mom reading those sexually raw and blunt poems?

MN: Actually it happened the exact opposite way. I mean I wrote about these things because this was just my voice as a writer and it was poetic to me as a writer. Then came the huge fear of how are people going to react to this.  It was like jumping off of a bridge.
My mom is very supportive. …. It’s not like we read the book aloud to each other… There’s a lot of heavy stuff in the book. Complete strangers have a difficult time reading it. I’ve had people say I’ll read it when I’m emotionally stronger or they had to sit the book down and then pick it back up later. I don’t guess I’ve ever discussed all the specifics with my family about my writing and everything in my book, but they’ve experienced all the stuff just like me and you have. They’re people too.

CC: You also share about your depression, suicidal feelings, and general low points in your life. It was so relatable and really struck a chord within me regarding my own dark times. Was your family aware that you suffered through such severe downs before the book came out, or did reading it open a whole new light into who you were?

MN: They were aware of that before. They knew that I had struggled. They were most concerned that I was so hungry the whole time I was living in New Orleans. They didn’t realize I was struggling so much as far as that goes. There are a few poems I write about having a tough time, and I did have a really tough time. As far as me struggling, my depression and all that, I’ve always been pretty close to my family so they were aware of that. Sometimes very close by whenever I’m feeling that bad. Some of my journal entries included them physically being there when I was feeling that bad.

CC: With all the poems you write that show your hurt with women-- do you think that potential girlfriends look at that and are intimidated by that, like they might not want to be your next poem?

MN: Yeah, I can address that because I’ve had lots of girlfriends since 2004 when I published my first book. I have had a few girlfriends say I don’t want one of those poems written about me, that sort of thing, and I would go ok well then do the right thing and don’t do some of those things, but I would also say, and this is a good time to interject this, I write based on experience, but I also write based on observation and also what I create. I don’t like it when people so much assume I’m just some angsty teenager just writing in my journal about my crappy feelings. My poems are layered. Some of them are based on how I see the world. Sometimes it’s more of a creation. Some are completely autobiographical from the first word to the last and then others are a combination.
I think that there are a lot of people attracted to my work because it is honest, it is passionate, it is real. I don’t think it has affected any of my relationships in a negative way. I can’t say I wasn’t afraid of that when I first wrote it, but then also remember that these books are just snapshots, it’s not like my manifesto on relationships or on the world. It doesn’t chronicle the relationships I’ve had. I’ve had a number of relationships that ended well and one’s that I’m still friends with.

CC: Who and/or what inspires you most in your writing?

MN: When you asked me what inspired me I was going to say people like you. I’ll look at reviews on the internet or read fan mail and it also consoles me because I’ve been through this heavy stuff too so it makes me feel like I’m not alone to hear other people have struggled too.
I keep a binder of fan mail, and sometimes I have to go back and read, not how people say “ooh you’re such a great writer,” but how people said like, “oh you touched my life” or “I’m going through this depression and I kept your book at my bedside and it helped me through this difficult time.” That’s what it’s really about with why I write. That kind of counters all this other stuff because I know that my books help people and it means a lot.

CC: On Exhuming Juliet, your most recent book

MN: It’s got all the dark, gritty power of Crumpled Paper Dolls, but also in addition has a lighter side and shows the first chapter of love and not just the ending, the bad ending. So it shows a little of both.

CC: As far as how you wrote it, was it any different from your first book now that you knew people would actually be reading it?:

MN: Yeah it was different. I had that awareness, that pressure, that people were going to be reading it. Was my work going match or exceed the work of my first book, Crumpled Paper dolls? Was Exhuming Juliet going to be just as good? I tried not to think about it. I really placed it outside my head. If you think about all the stuff I write, all the open, honest, raw stuff that I write, if you think about the whole world reading it you’re not going to write it. So I’d just like stick my fingers in my ears and go la-la-la-la-la and I kind of just have to write. It was there, but it made my writing better which is why I think Exhuming Juliet in a lot of ways is a better book.

CC: You’ve already had that experience, so I imagine that it would be just a little bit easier in some ways to go ahead and do it. Like you said earlier, you’ve already jumped off the bridge, so it’s not like you really have to jump off again I guess:

MN: Yeah, that’s a really good point. As far as being open, honest, and transparent, or creating raw things, I kind of felt like I had the green light on it because I already got such a positive response from the first book, so I was able to take it to an even deeper level. It made me more comfortable as far as that goes, being open and touching on sensitive topics.

CC: I think with the first book, there was so much heavy stuff in there that you could write pretty much whatever you wanted and it would be ok:

MN: Hey, if they ban your book and burn you at the stake then you’ve made it. Controversial. I don’t try to make it that way, but that’s how it is.

CC: So what advice do you have for writer’s wanting to publish their first book?

MN: I would say write, and there you go. Profound I know. Write and don’t worry about things like submitting to publishers. When I was published they didn’t have all the stuff they have now for publishing your own book. I would say don’t waste your time trying to get published by a big publisher. Publish yourself and just go out there and put the work out there because you never know what’s going to happen. I think some of the major things that have happened in my life were like BBC radio contacting me, the State of Poem, doing the documentary on PBS, that’s not anything I chased after. Those were people that contacted me out of the blue because they knew of my writing. When your stuff is out there, even if you’re not published yet and you’re posting on myspace or a blog, you don’t know whose reading that stuff or who is going to want to publish this. Write and put it out there and make it happen yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to make it happen, because it won’t happen.
To me it was just a huge success to publish the book and have it in my hand. Where I’m at now is just beyond comprehension. When I mailed off that one book to Barnes and Noble I didn’t think that I would get a response. I wasn’t trying to break into the national market at all. I would say don’t try so hard. Don’t waste your time at the workshops. Don’t waste your time printing out submissions. Don’t waste your time spending money. Watch out for gimmicks. Don’t spend hundreds of dollars on someone who says they’re going to get your book in front of a bunch of special people that are going to take you somewhere. Just do it yourself.

CC: Anything else you would like to add?:

MN: I graduated at the top of my class in college. I had options. I chose the “starving artist” life. I’ve performed in Shakespeare plays, I’m a pretty bright guy, and I think that a lot of times poets get these drunken loser stereotypes that just write about dark creepy things or political things, or they just do performance poetry and dance around and beat a drum. I don’t like that association at all. I think that true poetry is more literary, pure, maybe a little more orthodox and should be treated with more respect. Back in the day poets and philosophers were at the same level as kings and got the status they deserve. Not saying I want that status, but it’s almost like the reverse has happened to where poets aren’t taken seriously, and we should be taken seriously.
Poetry has almost become a mockery. And even today when I introduce myself people almost look at me like I’ve got three heads.

CC: What is something about you that would surprise others to know?
MN: I’m a classical ballet dancer.

CC: How can we find your books and get updated on you?

MN: Any online bookseller or retailer like Barnes & Noble ( and Amazon (