Poets of the Week: Matthew Guerruckey and RJ Walker
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Poets of the Week: Matthew Guerruckey and RJ Walker

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Poets of the Week: Matthew Guerruckey and RJ Walker
Matthew Guerruckey and RJ Walker

We've come so far since we first started three months ago. You can read all of the previous interviews here. Our most popular article last month was: Garrett Cathey and Tayllor Johnson. Give it a read!

This week I had the privilege of talking to Matthew Guerruckey, editor-in-chief of Drunk Monkeys and author at ScreenSpy, and RJ Walker, poet and host of Salt Lake City's longest running open mic. We discussed the writing process, time travel, Harry Potter, and more. Keep reading to see what these wonderful duo had to say about their art!


Q: Can you tell me about your writing process? What does it look like to you?

Matthew Guerruckey: To me it looks like chaos, to an outsider, it would probably look laborious. I tend to write out a full draft, and then start over almost completely from scratch if necessary in the second. In the past year, I’ve been working on a novel, and I find that it’s become something very different than what it was in the early stages of the work—so the rewrite is very necessary. With past projects, I’ve given up, because an overhaul seemed so daunting, but this one’s different. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be working on, so I care less about the time it takes as long as I get it right.

RJ Walker: It really depends on what type of thing I like to write. If I’m going for humor, I stick to places where I find people who make me laugh. I hit up The Greenhouse Effect Coffee shop and sit with some friends and throw jokes around. Every now and again, I’ll throw out one that I write down and often, I’ll just copy the format of the joke or examine what made it funny at the time. In all my writing, humorous or dramatic, I try to provide a shift in perspective. We are flooded with nonfiction articles and opinion pieces in our newsfeed. I love reading these articles and pieces because they are about finding a moral and/or objective truth. I believe poetry is about finding an emotional truth, and the quest to find it is not constrained by the laws of reality and objective truth.


Q: If you could travel in time and pick a decade to live in, which decade would you choose? Why?

Matthew Guerruckey: Just before I sat down to do this interview I was watching Tokyo Story, a Japanese movie from 1954—the movie is so immersive and languid that you can really picture yourself in that time and that environment, so that’s the first thing that springs to mind. But it’s a fair answer, too, because lately I’ve felt very overwhelmed by the hyper-connectivity of the world today. It’s probably my own fault for letting myself be bombarded with technology and feeding the addictive desire for news or novelty. So lately I’ve been going on Internet “fasts” or Facebook “fasts”, just staying off those platforms (as much as possible, anyway) for weeks at a time. Not gonna lie—it’s amazing. I also miss the pre-text world, where you’d just have a long, involved, and intimate phone conversation with a friend for hours on end. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to go so far backwards in time that I skip past basic medical advancements or basic human decency like civil rights progress, so I don’t know. So I guess I’d want to be wherever I could be connected to a local community but also the world. I suspect that I have not sufficiently answered this question.

RJ Walker: I’m here, right here, right now. I would like to perhaps go to a future decade because the apocalypse would be a good writing prompt, but I guess I’ll just have to get there the old fashioned way. My fellow poet and Salt Lake Unified Slam Teammate, Jose Soto, would like to add his response “Right Now, because racism.” Which I find hilarious and poignant at the same time, which is how I like to find emotional truth through comedy.


Q: What is your favorite literary magazine/venue?

Matthew Guerruckey: In terms of content, I trust that Tin House is going to give me an interesting story each time out, and it’s less likely to feel as Iowa-workshoppy as anything I read in Glimmer Train or, God forbid, The New Yorker. But, really, my main contact with literary magazines is through publications by my friends or through the litmags that they run, so that’s Five 2 One, that’s Zoetic, that’s Red Fez, that’s Literary Orphans. When we went to a monthly format at Drunk Monkeys, I set out to steal as much as I could from what Literary Orphans is doing, and I’ve told their E.I.C. Scott Waldyn as much. I don’t think any lit mag right now has a better combination of design, format, and material than they do.

RJ Walker: My favorite online publisher of poems is Voicemail Poems. If you haven’t heard of it, the concept is that you call in and leave your submission as a voicemail on their telephone. If they choose to publish your poem, they publish the recording of the voicemail. I find the format unique and endearing and I love how they have created a new niche and way to experience poems. Big props to Jamie Mortara for running that. [Interviewer's Note: You can read about Voicemail Poems in this article, along with some other awesome literary magazines.]


Q: Is there a particular style of writing or classic writer that you dislike?

Matthew Guerruckey: Hemingway’s exaggerated masculinity turns me off, but I can’t deny that the guy could really write. In a different vein, I love the melodramatic sweep of Charles Dickens, but he will completely lose me from the beginning of the sentence to the end—usually because that sentence takes up an entire page. And Mark Twain is a lot of fun, but I don’t find his dialects at all believable, and they slow me down. I tried reading Portnoy’s Complaint, and it was just so juvenile and uninteresting that I couldn’t finish it. I even tried hearing the narrator’s voice in my head as the narrator from A Christmas Story, and that gimmick only got me through another few chapters. For the time, it was probably groundbreaking, but it did nothing for me.

RJ Walker: There are poems that are necessary and there are poems that are good. I seek poems that are both. I dislike poems that appeal to the lowest common denominator and try to paint the broadest perspective. I don’t want that, I want to hear the poem that shows your perspective and changes mine. But the easiest way to make anyone hate any classic poetry is to make them study it, particularly, in high school.


Q: What’s on your radar for the future?

Matthew Guerruckey: Writing, writing, writing. The last few years I’ve focused more on Drunk Monkeys than my own writing, and while the site has come a long way in those years, it’s been at the expense of what I feel is my actual career, even calling, so the balance now needs to shift back. So I’m finishing up this novel, with the idea of shopping it around in 2017. Then I’ll start working on the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. And, hopefully, peppering in more short fiction along the way.

RJ Walker: I’m currently working as an actor, particularly voice acting. I’ve been strongly perusing this career and art. I narrate audiobooks but what I’m most excited about is voicing a few characters for some independent video games. I am the voice of the villain in a new virtual reality escape game for the HTC Vive called Unforgiven.


Q: If you had to pick a color to describe your personality, what color would you be?

Matthew Guerruckey: When I was living in Missouri, I used to go to this park in Maryville, this little college town, to read and pray and meditate. This was before I lost the ability to write poetry, or at least before I became self-conscious of the poetry that I was able to write. So I’d always have a book and a notebook with me. And I’d read for a bit, and then, as I meditated, I’d listen to the wind through the leaves and the grass. These were perfect moments, and when I’d open my eyes, I’d look up into the limbs of the trees over my head, and the light shone through those green leaves, jostled by the wind. So whatever I may actually be in life, I’d want to be like those leaves, green and filled with life, rooted against the winds of change, and with a light greater than myself shining through.

RJ Walker: Black

Just kidding red

Just kidding

Emo.


Q: Who is your role model, both in writing and in life?

Matthew Guerruckey: My favorite writer is Kurt Vonnegut, for many reasons, but primarily because he focuses so much on the story he’s telling and less on dressing up his language. My first writing training was in Journalism, as was Vonnegut’s, and I think that I absorbed those lessons a little too well, as both a writer and a reader. I love being immersed in a world, but I hate the feeling that time is being wasted that could be used to advance the narrative. Digressions work only if they are enhancing the character or making the world more believable. Anything else begins to feel, to me, like the writer is stalling, or showing off. Probably the number one piece of advice that I give to the writers whose stories we decline at Drunk Monkeys is to cut the story in half.

But if I had to pick a role model in life, it would probably be Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers. From all accounts, this was a guy who was exactly the same person in his real life as he was in front of the cameras, and who had a mission in life that every part of his day contributed to. I can’t think of a single person in my lifetime that I’ve seen do more to bring people of every type together and to let them know that they’re loved and that their lives have meaning. What more can you hope to leave behind you as a legacy than that?


RJ Walker: My two biggest local influences are Jesse Parent and Gray Brian Thomas. Jesse for performance and Gray for writing. My other influences are Good Ghost Bill, Carrie Rudzinski, and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib as the poets who’s work I consume the most. [Interviewer's Note: Both Jesse and Hanif will appear later this fall in the series for interviews. Stay tuned.]


Q: What would your Patronus be if you had one?

Matthew Guerruckey: I’ve been through a fair amount of trauma in my life, specifically sexual assault as a child, and that’s been very tough to deal with, so I’ve often turned to self-help books and meditation to try to achieve balance. That, along with therapy, has been tremendously helpful. During one of the most difficult times of my adult life, I was in meditation, focusing on my pain, and then suddenly—WHAM—there was this tiger there in my mind’s eye, chasing off all of that hurt and rage. I had no particular connection with tigers that I was aware of, it wasn’t an animal I’d ever felt any particular connection to. But there it was. Just a few months later I was researching books on dealing with trauma, when I found one called Waking the Tiger. So, remembering my experience in meditation, I bought it, and that book did more to center me in my own life, as opposed to conscious or subconscious re-living of my traumatic experiences, than any book that I’d ever read. And the symbolism of the tiger isn’t entirely positive—it’s a regal, smart animal, but in some traditions it represents pride and selfishness, and as I look back on certain aspects of my personality and on coping mechanisms that I developed in the wake of my abuse, I see what that self-centered nature did to me. So the tiger represents both what’s kept me safe and what’s kept me isolated, but if I was facing down a pack of dementors, I have little doubt what animal would come leaping to my aid.


RJ Walker: A bear lost in the desert.


Q: Anything else you want to add? (Links, poems, announcements, comments, etc)

Matthew Guerruckey: I’d like to link to the August issue of Drunk Monkeys. We pulled it together as a tribute to the victims of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando this past June, but I think it became something bigger than that. I’m especially happy that so many members of the staff have their own pieces of commentary and poetry in the issue, and that we all worked to make this issue mean something. I’m blessed to work with these people, and this issue feels like all of us adding our distinctive voices in a call for understanding and peace—as well as in anger and fear.

I feel like it’s time to begin stepping aside and letting other people run the show, and if this issue was the peak of my time as the guiding creative force of Drunk Monkeys, I’d be very happy with what we’ve accomplished.


RJ Walker: Check out my website, Facebook, and online store!


Next Week: Cal Harris and Ashley August!

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