In this episode of the Sewanee Review Podcast, poet Matthew Olzmann talks with our managing editor Eric Smith about poems as letters, the creative forces behind strangeness, and the isolation of the writing life. Olzmann’s most recent collection, Constellation Route, arose from his need to write about his own origins as a poet, and the need to write toward what he couldn’t say and to address people he couldn’t confront.
As Smith investigates Olzmann’s individual poems and the revelations that burst forth from them, the conversation shifts from the stylistic details and mechanics of verse and toward the realm of poetic epistemology. As Olzmann says about his own process, “A lot of times you start off writing about something and there’s the observable subject matter that you’re writing about, but that initial start is to help you explore or reach for or describe or discuss something that’s not there in the initiating subject or the observable subject, that’s trying to get at subtext or some kind of question about what it is to be alive right now or what’s going on in the world.” Olzmann does not shy away from explaining what creating poetry looks like on a fundamental level, nor does he fear the ways in which writing isolates a person. Instead, he relishes the joy of those long hours putting pen to paper and eventually sending that work out into the world with no idea who could read it or how it might affect them.
Matthew Olzmann is the author of Constellation Route as well as two previous collections of poetry: Mezzanines and Contradictions in the Design. He teaches at Dartmouth College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. This episode is produced by Carlos Zayas-Pons and edited by ProPodcast Solutions with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.