Millicent Borges Accardi, Interviews Editor
We featured Carlo Matos here at PQ a while back, and since he has a new book out this fall—a cross of prose poetry and flash fiction—I thought we would revisit him and ask a few questions about how he has made the transition from poet to prose writer.
Carlo Matos has published three previous poetry collections, A School for Fishermen, Counting Sheep Till Doomsday, and Big Bad Asterisk*. Originally from Fall River, MA, he now lives in Chicago with his son Alex and writer wife Nicole. He teaches at the City Colleges of Chicago and is a core member of the Chicago Poetry Bordello. He also coaches a team of MMA fighters in his spare time.
MBA: As someone who is primarily a poet, how different was it to explore the genre of prose poetry/hybrid fiction?
CM: What I like most about poetry—including prose poetry—is the weight that’s put on each word because the piece must stand alone, must do all the work of creating/containing meaning, but what I like about fiction is the constant fight between exposition and action. Get the balance wrong, and it doesn’t work.
Basically, I have been slowly moving towards including more and more plot and character development in my work while simultaneously trying not to lose the intensity one gets from poetry.
MBA: What’s the difference between your poetry and your hybrid work?
CM: Certainly line breaks are a huge difference.
I guess it really comes down to how much the pieces depend on each other to be fully understood. The more they stand alone, the more I am inclined to think of them as prose poems. The more they depend on one another, the more I think of them as serving the demands of prose, or at least the demands of plot arc or character development.
Big Bad Asterisk* is very loosely plotted, putting more pressure on the individual pieces to stand alone, but in Loon & Fiasco the plotting is much more central, so I tend to think of them as flash pieces. It’s not a very exciting distinction, but I think it’s supported by what I actually did. I hope, anyway.
MBA: What are you working on now?
CM: At the moment, two manuscripts. My first book of fiction (a hybrid, flash-novella titled The Secret Correspondence of Loon & Fiasco) is going to be released in October by Mayapple Press.
In it you’ll find encrypted codes, AI, folk magic, and ruminations on the nature of sex chat, among many other things. It centers on Johnny Sundays who flees California’s Central Valley when he realizes he’s become stuck in time like a sad, urban Kwisatz Haderach. He makes his way to Chicago where time thankfully starts to clack forward again, only to fall impossibly in love with a computer program—a chatbot named ALICE. “Meet me on a heathered mountain,” she says one night—and she has him.
Meanwhile his estranged wife finds herself suddenly drawn to the island of São Miguel and to the ghost of a girl her powerful sorceress grandmother cursed in her youth. Unsure what awaits her in the Atlantic, she draws towards the unspoken something which cleaves them apart even as they grip towards one another.
MBA: What makes your writing unique?
CM: This is actually a hard question to answer because I don’t ever find myself comparing the differences between my work and the work of people I admire. I am not, however, going to discuss how my work is like the work of people I admire either, because that could only be embarrassing and revealing in a way that probably wouldn’t be very flattering.
I can say that what I’ve been into for the last five or six years is the poetic possibilities of prose. There is nothing novel there, of course, but it has been a continuous project for me. I have recently started publishing flash nonfiction essays as well. I have only begun to explore that side of things and I find it very exciting. Compression is so powerful. To be honest, though, I can sense that after this work with the flash nonfiction essays, I may go in the total opposite direction and see what a larger canvas may have to offer, but at the moment I have exhausted all my characters. They are not interested in playing with me right now.
MBA: What other hybrid writers do you read? Those who are writing somewhere between what is called “prose poetry” and “hybrid fiction”?
CM: Carol Guess, Sarah Carson, Kristina Marie Darling, to name only a few—but Carol Guess, especially. I feel a real kinship with the way her prose paragraphs come together. I just reviewed a book she co-authored with Kristina Darling called X Marks the Dress. In it you can see how she masterfully deconstructs Western wedding traditions while writing very powerful poems about a bride as she prepares for her “big” day.
MBA: What subjects do you often find that grab you by the throat and won’t let go?
CM: Roosters. Jellyfish. Fighting. 80s movies. Class warfare. Science. Portuguese-American stuff. Work. Whimsy. For some reason I don’t write much about sex, which I can find no real reason for. The steamiest relationship in my work occurs between a man and a chatbot—and it is nothing like the movie, Her. ALICE is only a text box on a screen.
MBA: How do you decide what genre/form your ideas will take? I mean, do you start out writing a novel and end up with a sonnet?
CM: With the exception of the first book, which took almost 10 years to find its form and shape, all the other books had form before they had content. The issue, of course, is that the last two books had different forms, but the forms weren’t of a totally different nature. All that happened with those books was that I realized that my obsession with prose poetry/flash fiction was more important than my desire to write in more conventional forms. It is also true that my desire to write larger/longer/more complex works that include very little set-up, background, connective tissue, and other trappings of plot tectonics is what’s really motivating all this work. I am going to keep pushing that idea until it is no longer poetry.
CM: Apareça. First soft, then loud. Linda didn’t know the girl’s name. Her grandmother had never mentioned it. Nothing. No one on the beach. But suddenly, fog. The night birds in their warrens in the cliff were quiet before she realized it, as were the sounds and sweet airs. Seja sempre comigo—assumir qualquer forma—me deixa louca! Catherine and Heathcliff were savages, born to lash out without redress, and when bound, grew dull and blunted and simmering. Linda heard bodies plunging the ocean waves. The girl from the mountainside was on her way, not far now. These were Linda’s last moments before she joined the bloated ones at the steps of the crab-wracked and barnacled rock. The girl was on the waves with purpose, getting always closer but never arriving. Linda could hear her song, maybe the very one that cost her so much—the flesh of the land—and it was worth shattering her hull on the rocks to listen for a few bars more. It was worth spending eternity a few branches lower on the evolutionary tree to be near. But the fog was reining in now and no ragged sails or rotten gangplanks, no phantom fires. For although Linda would never be allowed to take this wailing urchin away from its worrying sea, it would always be there waiting for her return. But the sand was cool at night too, and her family would be worried.
MBA: Where did you get the title?
CM: The title of the book came directly from a series aphoristic-sounding poems I translated into binary. I originally wrote 10 short poems that were intended to be doubly encrypted messages between two spies codenamed Loon and Fiasco. The series was called “The Secret Correspondence of Loon and Fiasco.”
MBA: Is the book epistolary? It sounds like it is.
CM: The book is not epistolary, but it does include a sequence of encoded messages that Johnny sends to his wife when he leaves her in California—messages she uncharacteristically does not respond to until the very last chapter. The more time goes by, the more panicked he becomes. The messages are the poems I mentioned above, which now serve as chapter headings in the novella. Loon and Fiasco are the code names for Johnny and Linda.
MBA: What’s the best blurb you have received?
CM: That is really tough. I have received some amazing blurbs over the years from some amazing people, but I must say that I am partial to how Simone Muench characterized Loon & Fiasco.
She called it “a magical misfit of a novel(la)—a love letter to the technological age—that is absorbing, ingenious, speculative, and poignant.” I guess I see myself as a bit of a misfit, so I think it is probably a very apt way to describe all of my work.
MBA: What events do you have coming up?
CM: I have a few things coming up very soon in Chicago. For example, in October, I have a double book launch with my wife, who just published her first book, at Everybody’s Coffee in Uptown, and then I will be writing poems on demand at Dose Market with the Poems While You Wait crew.
In November, I will be poetry whoring with the Chicago Poetry Bordello at Schubas Bar. I have also been invited to participate in a conference at the University of Toronto and York University in Canada, which is an honor but totally scary too. I definitely don’t see myself as a representative of Portuguese-American writing nor am I any kind of expert on all things Portuguese, that’s for sure.
And, of course, I have a series of readings/workshops with you and Kale Soup for the Soul starting in Albuquerque, NM during the American Portuguese Studies Association (APSA) conference, and then as part of the Carr Reading series at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana, and, finally, as a featured reading during AWP in Minneapolis. I am grateful to be so busy and hope more events come down the line.
Carlo Matos is the author of three poetry collections, A School for Fishermen, Counting Sheep Till Doomsday, and Big Bad Asterisk*. He has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the Fundação Luso-Americana. He teaches English and writing at the City Colleges of Chicago.