Interview with Matthew Woodman – Featured Poet – First Friday Open Mic – April 7, 2023
By: Carla Joy Martin
Matthew Woodman, our Kern County Poet Laureate, was our featured performer for First Friday Open Mic on April 7, 2023. He shared poems from his Red Rock Canyon collection. Other performers were Jill Egland, Thomas Brill, Jim Bates, Leah Jaymes Truitt, Don Thompson, January Joyce, Heather Ponek, Syndi Austin, Christopher Robert Craddock, Portia Choi.
Q. What inspired you to write about Red Rock Canyon? How important is sense of space and local environment to many poets? How does landscape inform your poetry? What is unique about the Kern County area? How does it shape the inhabitants – and your overall message?
A. Red Rock Canyon has been a place for me to escape my routine and mundane preoccupations and instead encounter nature and other scales of time. Teachers encourage students to “write what you know,” but writers should also be encouraged to expand what they know through writing, and the more I wrote about Red Rock Canyon, the more I came to learn about its history, geology, wildlife (as well as learning more about myself), and writers cannot exist without places to think and write, so a sense of place (even if that place is one’s room) is vital for all writers. In terms of how landscape has informed my own poetry, with these Red Rock Canyon poems, I am trying to create poems that embody the same canyons and geologic strata as the canyon itself, which explains the stacked and broken abstract lines of “( Caption : add to the startling effect )” and “( Caption : the appearance of dampened clay ),” two poems that were inspired by photographs Edward Weston took of Red Rock Canyon.
(The poems can be found here: https://www.amsterdamreview.org/two-by-matthew-woodman.html)
The geography of Kern County is unique in that it is so varied, including valley grassland, agricultural fields, oil fields, urban settings, river canyons, deserts, foothills, and mountains, and when the wind hits just write, we can smell the ocean. Beyond those labels of place, those who live in Kern County are affected by landscape, with our increased rates of asthma, Valley Fever, and hypertension. There is much to appreciate in Kern County, but there is much –I would argue— that should be a source of shame (such as our low literacy rates). That tension and conflict shapes much of my writing, where my poems can swerve between extremes of joy and despair.
Q. You have done a fabulous job of offering poets a platform to get their words out there – by starting Rabid Oak and also making a series of poetry anthologies through CSUB and hosting public readings and poetry writing seminars – the list goes on and on! How does it feel to have other poets’ words available for the community to read? What would you say to encourage poets to get published or participate in Open Mics? How important is it (to you) for poets to share their work – or should we all hoard our poems in little homemade books in our bedroom like Emily Dickinson? What are the benefits of getting our poems out to the world? What would you say to encourage the “closet poets” among us?
A. Communication and personal expression are vital components to one’s quality of life, and in terms of the anthologies and readings I have helped edit and coordinate, being able to provide platforms for others to speak and be heard has been rewarding. For those reasons, I would encourage all writers to participate in Open Mics. Many people suffer from social anxiety and fear public speaking, but standing in front of a crowd and reading one’s own crafted writing aloud is the best way to exorcise those fears and anxiety. Too all the aspiring poets (and we’re all aspiring poets), I say: get up and send your voice into the world! You never know where those sentences may land and take root.