Meg Matich is an NYC-based poet and translator. A two-time Iowa Review finalist, her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Iowa Review, The Winter Anthology (for which she received the Winter Anthology poetry prize), alice blue review, Drunken Boat, OVS Magazine, Contrary, Archirave Press, and others. Her Icelandic translations have appeared on Catch & Release, and are forthcoming from Words Without Borders, Absinthe, Asymptote, and Exchanges. She is currently completing her theses in Columbia’s MFA program, while working with the Emerging Literary Translators Network of America. Her alter ego, Yngvildr Fagrkinn, skulks around the NYC Poetry Brothel luring patrons to untimely – but also sexy – deaths as an act of protest against her unfair treatment in the “Svarfdæla’s Saga”.
Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?
Nastasya Filippovna – hands down. She’s the principle heroine in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (Идиот). I think the reason I’m so attached to her is because she suffered greatly, and we see the consequences of traumatic events in her life. She’s adaptable, she’s physical, she’s empowered and sexual, but she’s also concealing a great deal of pain beneath her self-destructive impulses. She fights against herself as much as she gives into her pain. I see myself in this person, and I care for her without question, even though she ultimately ends up destroying herself and everyone who loves her.
She believes she’s not capable of giving and receiving love; but on another level, she struggles against that belief, rebels against it as much as she rebels against love. She is lovable. Prince Muishkin — her great love — shows us that love is in everything, but that it chooses to remain present in and to fight for its object. It’s an action. Nastasya is, in some sense, the embodiment of that love as action, love as doing truth.
What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?
There are so many! I think Anne Carson has had a great deal to do with my development as a writer and as a person. First of all, she embraces the power of the sentence, she breaks it, and demonstrates boundary. At the same time, she writes lines that are devastatingly true: Pain rested. Beauty does not rest. And even, more comically, he lied when it wasn’t even convenient.
On a more personal level, Lucie Brock-Broido cuts down to my bones. Her poetry destroys me. Not only are her poems decadent and feral, but they are smarting with pain, with an acceptance and a resilience that I would live.
How did your work/works in Alyss come about?
I was actually reading an article about transcription in monasteries when I wrote Cellar Violin. I read that it takes 225 sheep to make a Bible. Then I started thinking about my own experience attending a Catholic college, and that led to a ghost story that I remembered from my freshman year. They used to slaughter cows in the basement of the monastery, and before they did so, the monks would play violin for the animals, to calm them. Apparently, you can still hear the violin being played at night sometimes in the slaughter room, which looks like a low-ceilinged tunnel. In theology class, we used to talk about dignity- what dignity meant- and at one point, we were told that animals couldn’t have dignity because dignity existed as a result of the existence of a soul (and animals don’t have souls, I guess). They are only bodies. I started to think about my body — how mental illness takes me over and doesn’t let me go, and how I have been ‘sick’ since I was five or six years old. I wanted to blame my body. My body took me into the slaughter room, where a water clock dripped away my last seconds, like a cruel metronome. I was very sick at that time – hallucinating and all other kinds of awful things – and I felt the clepsydra, the pull of the violin strings. I felt that pain [would not rest].
The poem: does it ever end? I felt an ending. It was a visitation – a rare burst of energy. And the energy ended. I have a visitation once a year, if I’m lucky.
Two Kids was actually a sort of coming-out about a difficult time when I was a child. I don’t have a brother, for the record, and I didn’t kill a pigeon. But I was dispelling guilt by telling my secret, albeit slant. That poem was triggered by the word “dovecote” and it ended like a trig identity. I sat and worked at it like a math problem – not calculating lines, but calculating line placements, rearranging, and the rearrangement led to cutting a lot of fat. It’s the longest poem I have, actually. I’m not sure if it’s finished, even now, or if it will ever be. The ending reminds me again of Dostoevsky: “There is no pain in the stone, only pain the fear of the stone.”
What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?
This was a translation moment for me. I work with a miraculous Icelandic poet, and I felt a connection to his work that I will never be able to explain. Then I met him, and it set my blood on fire. He was the incarnation of his poems. And it was a celebration to see poetry walking around Reykjavik on a Wednesday night, enlivened by the midnight sun.
What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?
Definitely Five by Mandy Rose. I like this because it takes a less-popular form, the prose poem, and its lyrically rich, but still colloquial. It reveals. It confesses. I think that it shows the ambivalence of a victim. It’s last line is heartbreakingly beautiful — To paraphrase Yeats, “it comes to a close like a well-made box clicking shut”. I can’t forgive any of us when I remember my daughter was five.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been working on a book of poems that use the arctic as metaphor. I’m deeply interested in Inuit culture, in ice, in survival and dissolution and resolution. In the toming solicitude of high latitudes. Loneliness, simplicity, isolation. I’ve been spending days in the rare books library going over letters and images and ephemera from 19th century expeditions to Greenland and the Northwest Passage. The book is called Cold. I’m hoping I can also speak to protecting the environment and having reverence for cultures that we (U.S. Americans) aren’t broadly exposed to. Getting beyond stereotypes and tropes of cold and Inuit and Greenland and confronting what is at the heart of those cultures and locations. I’m obsessed.
Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?
I’m something of a linguaphile—
so the word itself! (My middle name is Alyssa, so I’ve looked into this). Take a look:
— from Latin alysson, from Greek alysson, which is perhaps the neuter of adjective alyssos “curing madness,”
from privative prefix a- + lyssa “madness, martial rage, fury, rabies,”
literally “wolf-ness,” related to lykos “wolf”
But I’m a wolf.