The author of seven books of poetry, Matthew Rohrer was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and raised in Oklahoma. His third collection, Nice Hat. Thanks., is a collaboration with Joshua Beckman, and the two poets produced an audio CD of their performances called Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty. Rohrer’s fourth collection, A Green Light, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2005. Rohrer studied poetry at the University of Michigan and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and now teaches at New York University.
Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager that you remember well?
I started reading and writing poems in high school in order to spend more time with a girl I was obsessed with. She loved Anne Sexton and got me into poems in 11th grade. Then in 11th grade English I had to present on a poem from our textbook, and I choose a poem by Pound called “The Garden.” I think I chose it mostly because of the picture on the facing page (a Japanese design), but I still have the poem memorized.
When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?
Well, as I just mentioned, 11th grade is when I started really thinking about poems and writing little ones. I don’t really know about considering myself a poet — the simple answer I guess is when my first book was published, but for instance today I don’t feel like a poet at all; I feel like a dishwasher or a cook, which is about all I’ve done today. So many days I don’t write poems and it seems funny to think about that being what a poet does — that, meaning taking out the trash, or helping the kids with their homework, or whatever.
What do you think a poet’s “job” is?
I think a poet’s job is to capture her or his life and situation in culture at large. Whether that be in a narrative fashion, or through a sort of sampling, or mere reference, or whatever — I think what we want from ancient poets is the feeling that we are seeing — even if briefly and imperfectly — their actual lives. So it seems obvious then that it should be our job too.
What inspired you to write “Dog Boy”?
I was planning on writing a whole book about cryptozoological phenomena, like Dog Boy, a Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster, and the New Jersey Devil — there are so many. I wrote “Dog Boy” and “Mongolian Death Worm” and then realized that those two might be enough; that a whole book of these would become forced and precious. But I’ve always been interested in things like this, and hope they’re true.
If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be? [and why?]
I’ve always loved “The Day Lady Died” by O’Hara and would love to be forced to memorize it. It’s so “un-poetic” that I think it would be a challenge.