Interview with Matthew Lawler

Interview with Matthew Lawler


Matthew J. Lawler is a poet and Chicago original. He grew up on the Northwest Side of the city (Irving/Albany Park) and began scrawling poems on napkins while walking home from Von Steuben High School in Albany Park. He has been published in numerous journals, including, Sick Lit Magazine, The Miscreant, Caravel, Tuck, Visual Verse, Dissident Voice, Scarlet Leaf Review, Eunoia Review, Spillwords, and Peeking Cat Magazine. He was recently published in the anthology “Illinois’s Best Emerging Poets,” put out by Z Publishing. His work has  also been made into videopoems. His writing is both narrative and philosophical. He can be found performing at various open mics throughout Chicago. You can also find more of his work on Facebook at or Instagram @poetmjl


Q: When did you start writing?

A: Originally I started writing raps in the 7th grade.  I grew up in the golden era of hip-hop listening to KRS-ONE, N.W.A, The Fugees, Nas, Rakim, Wu-Tang, and they all definitely inspired me to get lyrical. I didn’t get serious about writing until high school, but I was still writing raps and scrawling lines on napkins while walking home from school. I was 19 years old when I took a poetry class at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago and it changed my life. I became serious about learning the forms, structures, rhythms, rhyme schemes, and overall use of figurative language. I started studying the greats, Keats, Milton, Poe, Rossetti, Whitman, Blake, L. Hughes, Plath. I was consuming poetry at a frenetic pace. I started writing sonnets and villanelles, and really fell in love with the fixed form. I composed my first Sonnet and it was published in The Wilbur Wright Creative Writing Magazine. I guess it’s just been a series of baby steps to get to the realization of my “vocation” as a poet. The good news is once you realize your “vocation” nothing can stop you, not even a little writer’s block. Nothing can hold you down because you know poetry is what you are meant to do. To me it’s beyond a physical thing. Poetry is a introspective encounter with the immaterial world within and without.  It’s a language that can’t be explained to the logical mind. Every time I put pen to paper and really delve inward I can honestly say I’ve experienced God through writing. Poetry is the language of the soul. 

Q: Who are your biggest inspirations/your favourite writers?

A: I have a whole lot of favorite writers and I’ll start with Denise Levertov. In her book This Great Unknowing, she writes about hearing the whispers of the vine leaves. Levertov wrote with such attention and awareness of her surroundings and with a keen eye to uniquely see beyond the surface of things. I love the fact that she’s always asking questions throughout her poems and searching for a deeper self.  Ai Ogawa is another one of my favorites and I’ve  never read any poet who is better at the dramatic monologue than Ai. If you want to learn how to write a persona poem just study Ai’s work and you will be enlightened. I also can’t  forget the father of the modern detective story Edgar Allen Poe and the poet who once wrote a 15,000 line poem(The Battlefield Where the Moon says I Love You) without using any punctuation, the great Frank Stanford. I’m a big Theodore Roethke fan and one of my all time favorite poems is “The Waking.” Roethke is definitely in my top 5 just on the basis of mere contemplative language, images, and movement that run throughout his poems. 

Q: What time of day do you do most of your writing?

A: I write mostly at night usually around midnight. There’s just something deep, and mystical about midnight and its always been my favorite time to write, but sometimes poems just come to me while meandering down the streets of Chicago. All it takes is one image and that can trigger memory, emotion, words.  Most of my writing is spawned in those moments, but I usually write them down around midnight

Q:  Why do you write?

A:   It’s all I’m really good at and though it is a gift that may not earn you a penny it will give you something much deeper than money. It will give you joy and completeness. I often wonder why I had to be a poet! I mean, why not an astrophysicist, engineer, a doctor, shoot even a CTA bus driver would have sufficed. Nope. I had to be a poet, but honestly I’m not complaining because only poets know the true joy of poetry. I believe the real reason I write is to free myself from all of my experiences, whether good or bad there is a certain freedom of emotion that comes with writing poems. I was diagnosed with type one Diabetes when I was 13 years old and I think it really deepened my soul in that it exposed me to suffering. This constant crutch that I had to live with made me feel things (empathy, compassion, pain). Suffering is the gateway to the interior life and it awakened me in a way that altered my perception of myself and the world around me. Anyone who has type one Diabetes since they were a kid knows the agony it entails. But luckily for me it birthed something deep, something real and tangible like an acorn blooming into a monumental oak. Poetry is in my blood and it’s been there since a very young age. I write because I live and I live because I write.         


Q: Do you have any favourite quotes from writers?

A: Robert Frost said, “Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another.”  My favorite quote is from Emily Dickinson and it pretty much sums up what I try to do when I write. She said, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. My last quote is from William Wordsworth who called poetry, “The spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions.”

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give new/aspiring writers?

A: “Don’t you give up, nah-nah-nah, I won’t give up, nah-nah-nah,” in my Justin Bieber voice. On a serious note, i would say just keep writing, keep putting pen to paper and let your emotions guide you. If you feel strongly about something it’s bound to show up in your writing. The great English romantic  poet John Keats said, “nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.” I would say just pay attention to the moments because they are fleeting and all it takes is one image, one experience to capture your imagination and turn the immaterial into material. Paying attention is an arduous task nowadays with all our technological advancements, but I would say if you really want to become a better writer to listen more, talk less, observe more, and be still. 

Q: Do you have any collections, chapbooks, or other books available for people to purchase?

A: I’ve been published in numerous literary journals and an anthology titled “Illinois’s Best Emerging Poets” available on Amazon. I’m currently working on my first full length poetry collection (Concrete Oracles) and hope to have it out sometime this year. 

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