February 15, 2018
In his new collection The Real Horse: Poems, Farid Matuk offers a thought provoking collection about the meanings of self and citizen. He recently answered five questions from his editor Scott De Herrera about his work:
What inspired you to write this work?
There’s no such thing as a good man, or a good American. In this work I at least crystalized that for myself, and tried to situate that as a ground floor from which to reach, in future works, toward goodness as such, a non-moralistic force I very much believe in.
How does your upbringing as an immigrant influence your approach to poetry?
I’m not only an immigrant but I’m also from long lines of immigrants, some who came from Syria to the highlands of Peru to California, and from others who came from the Aymara people of the Andean altiplano, surviving and changing through the Incan and Spanish conquests and subsequent mestizaje, and who recently migrated down to the urban capital of Lima. Those layers of displacement have left me not with a rich intersection of cultural and linguistic heritages but with a shallowness. That’s okay, because I still have language, body, and spirit. I try to make that intersection my home in art.
What value do you see in poetry as a form of expression over other creative formats?
I’m with the poet Alice Notley, who wrote in her poem “I, the People,”: “And we are the masters/ of hearing & saying/ at the double edge of body &/ breath.” I walk away from her word “masters,” though, mostly because I believe that when we do our work at the “double edge of body &/ breath” we don’t own or control anything but instead make ourselves available and porous to ghosts, landscapes, and to those others bearing their “double edges” among us.
What is the biggest challenge you see today for poets?
We’re a varied lot, and so are our challenges. Maybe the perennial and shared challenge is to stay close on the heels of our betters (across all genre and media) so as to deepen into the particulars of our own questions and of our own art. As for “today,” social media helps by creating access, visibility, and community for folks kept out by old systems, and social media hurts when it distracts us with our own ubiquity and keeps us from asking, Access to what?
What are you working on now?
I have a couple of manuscripts drafted out, but I’m searching for new angles of approach so I can get back into them. One is a book-length verse project and the other is a hybrid prose and verse work of scholarship, or of reading. While I search for ways to enliven those manuscripts, I’m helping out with some translations from Spanish of the outsider Peruvian poetry group, Kloaka, and I’m reading a draft of a text that chronicles Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar’s journey accompanying Syrian refugees across the Mediterranean and into Europe. Hopefully, I can be useful to Khaled as he works out how to use that text in future installations and multi-media works. More broadly, I’m reading works written by folks outside the U.S.A., trying to hack a way out of our big bad provincialism.
Born in Peru to a Syrian mother and Peruvian father, Farid Matuk immigrated to California at the age of six and was undocumented until the age of thirteen. The recipient of an Alumni New Works grant from the Headlands Center for the Arts, Matuk is an assistant professor of English at the University of Arizona.