Trista Mateer is a writer and a poet who lives outside Baltimore. Known for her eponymous blog and a confessional style of writing, Trista Mateer has the rare talent of writing poems that are both good and true. In 2015, Trista won the Goodreads choice Award for poetry with her book The Dogs I Have Kissed. In this book, Trista Mateer weaves together religious overtones with a raw sensuality and sense of heartache. The book was Trista’s second collection of poetry, having already released her book Honeybee in 2014. That book follows the course of around a year, and chronicle the on-again off-again process of letting go. Trista Mateer is also works as a contributing editor at Words Dance publishing. Please enjoy my interview with writer and poet, Trista Mateer…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I try very hard not to make a joke about it or to be self-depreciating, but I’m still getting used to saying, “I’m a professional poet.” It usually comes out something closer to, “I talk a lot about my feelings on the internet.”
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I don’t know how old I am, but I’m obsessed with the Redwall novels by Brian Jacques. It’s my birthday and my step father has taken me to Walden books in the mall and I want to spend all of my birthday money on these books about mice with swords. I have about eight in my hands. And he’s saying, “are you sure?” And I’m nodding and nodding and nodding. I don’t even wait until we’re home to start the next one.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
I would encourage young people to read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Maybe not the first one ever, but I did start this manuscript when I was around twelve about a drunk elf with a bunch of elaborate lore. It’s still two hundred pages of childhood hopefulness shoved into a bottom drawer. I know you’re supposed to write the first novel and then set it aside because it’s inevitably awkward and stilted and horrible, but I still think about picking it back up.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I was a waitress for seven years. I can tell you some stories about some bullshit.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
Don’t read the comments, and write whatever you feel like you need to write (even if it’s just love poems.)
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Nobody reads as much as they’d like to. There’s life always sneaking up and getting in the way.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
I have a list of books that I feel would be important reading for people on my career path:
and more specifically for poetry:
I actually reread The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, if not every year, then maybe every other year. I first read both at very different times in my life and they both mean different things to me but, mostly, they’re comfortable and they feel a little bit like coming home. Reading doesn’t always have to be an escape. It can mean going back, too.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Pansy by Andrea Gibson is my favorite collection of poetry and I always bring it up when I’m asked for recommendations.
Who would you say are the three writers that continue to inspire you?
Can I say Hozier? Do lyrics count? They’re so close to poetry, I can’t tell them apart sometimes. But if we’re strictly talking writers: Lora Mathis, Andrea Gibson, and Neil Gaiman.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
I know that I’m supposed to say poetry. If this were a test, I’d be getting bad marks for being a poet and saying anything else, but my favorite genre is honestly something like female-driven young adult fantasy. Think like, the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. I like stepping out of my own head. And the work that’s being done in YA is above and beyond when it comes to creative storytelling and diverse characters. I can pick up a young adult book right now and find a character like me (queer) or a character very different from me, and both of those options are super important when it comes to finding your place in the world but also being an empathetic human being. So much of adult literature is white, straight men having marital problems or white, straight women finding themselves after divorce. I’m just not here for it.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Sad, I suppose, but mostly dangerous. Books used to get burned for a reason. Books still get censored for a reason. The written word is a powerful tool for teaching and spreading ideas.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Actually, no. I guess the closest was Brian Jacques but after he died, I took it so personally. I know that sounds silly. According to my poetry, I’m afraid of commitment.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
Probably not completely. There’s still something about a beautiful hardback book on a shelf that just feels good. Although I worry we might lose the cheaper paperback option when people can just as easily scoop it up on an e-reader for a cheaper price.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?
I don’t know. Something kind.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Clementine von Radic’s original out-of-print chapbook, As Often As Miracles, is what prompted me to share my own writing online, so it’s sort of to blame for my entire career as a poet. No big deal.
I would also include the following books in my reading list:
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer,
The Crucible by Arthur Miller,
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder,
Carmilla by J. Sheridan le Fanu,
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak,
and The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
Another poet I know, Amanda Lovelace, started this reading challenge called #readthemargin, where you dedicate a specific month, I think December, to only reading work by marginalized writers. That’s work by people of color and the LGBTQ community and women, etc. Basically, people who have been pushed to the margins in favor of—what America especially perceives to be—“the norm.” But in the wake of our recent election, I think it’s more important than ever to diversify our bookshelves and uplift the voices of people who are constantly “othered” by, not only reading and writing communities, but by my country as a whole. So in the spirit of that, I’ll be trying to stick to that idea for most, if not all, of 2017. I’m sure a couple books will slip through the cracks, but I’d like to make the conscious effort.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Do it For The Poem: One Woman’s Excuse for Making Horrible Life Choices.