An Interview with Matthew Rice

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THE MUMBLE : Hello Matthew, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking
MATTHEW : Hi! I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and was raised via Rathcoole (a housing estate outside of Belfast) and Islandmagee (a peninsula on the North East coast of Antrim), ending up in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, where I currently reside.

THE MUMBLE : When did you first realise you were a poet
MATTHEW : I don’t think i ever ‘realised’ I was a poet. I’m a little wary of folk who make claims to the art; which is to say, I believe it comes from ‘elsewhere’, as Ciaran Carson might put it. For a lot of years I felt I was just a reader, not a writer. Having said that, I came third in a short story competition for children when I was 10 years old, and I wrote little poems and such during those years also. I can tell you that I began to write poetry in earnest, as they say, when I was 27 (I’m now 36); the catalyst was provided by a visit with my father (himself a successful poet, Adrian Rice), to the WB Yeats exhibition in Dublin back in 2006. Although it must be said that I was probably absorbing poetry from an even younger age, given the amount of famous poets that came in and out of our house in Islandmagee, on account of my father’s involvment in the art.

THE MUMBLE : Which poets inspired you then, & who today
MATTHEW : Poets who inspired me when I started out were the likes of Seamus Heaney, Miroslav Holub, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Michael Longley. The poets that inspire me now are the same, but with the discovery of the complexities of Paul Muldoon’s work a joy; and Don Paterson is a hero of mine also. There are a number of emerging poets that I very much admire. The likes of your own Ross Wilson and Stephen Watt being just two – I had the pleasure of reading with them in Glasgow last November, as well as the inimitable Magi Gibson – along with exciting new Irish contemporaries both in the North and South. The ever-presents are Heaney and Longley, though. And my father, Adrian, of course, has always been a mainstay and an inspiration, and is a brutally honest giver of poetic feedback, which is valuable to have.

THE MUMBLE : Being an Ulsterman, do you find the socio-politcal stresses strains of your native land coming out in your poetry
MATTHEW : To a certain degree they have done, in some of my work. Funnily enough I’ve written a few poems with strains of the WWII Holocaust in them; my poem in memory of the late great poet Primo Levi being one. If I have ever addressed that area in my poems it has always been from an angle of Greek or Roman mythology, or from a childhood perspective. This is nothing new, of course, but is how I feel I can get at what I want to say; and is probably also why it has featured sparingly in my poetry to date. Once you’ve read ‘Ceasefire’ by Longley, ‘Anseo’ by Muldoon and ‘Casualty’ by Heaney, it’s really pointless to think one can compete. Plus things are much improved in my adult lifetime

THE MUMBLE : What other forces drive your work
MATTHEW : Nature can be one. Dreams have also provided me with many a poem. And history. I enjoy linking historical events to events in the present, if possible. I think history can be a lens with which to provide a sharp focus on events in the present, and the recent past. The events concerned do not necessarily have to be of a political nature, either. Personal experience is another aspect that I like to represent, although I find most times the speaker in those poems is fairly impersonal, for whatever reason; I’m not sure myself…

THE MUMBLE : You have had poems published in magazines and journals on both sides of the Atlantic, how do you find both the American poetry & the British scenes of 2017 – is there any common ground
MATTHEW : I find that the American scene, judging from what I’ve read in the journals and from my father’s experience as a ‘poet in exile’ there for the last 12 years, is thriving, as it is in Ireland. The UK is producing some great stuff. I must say, though, there is something special in the air in Belfast… There’s a real poetic buzz about the city these days, and it’s exciting to be a part of it. As far as common ground is concerened, the experimentation on both sides of the Atlantic in verse is something I have noticed. Free verse is also alive and kicking across the water, though I have seen the sonnet form more prevalent on this side; Adam Crothers and Adrian Rice just two prime examples. But any form I love, if the poetry is good. It’s also great to get to follow names in America that don’t necessarily get big coverage in Ireland by being published in those US journals; the likes of Stephen Dunn and Fredrick Seidel, to name two.

THE MUMBLE : What to you makes a good poem
MATTHEW : For me, a good poem is one that is first and foremost honest; one that does not rely on what Raymond Carver might have referred to as ‘tricks’. A good poem comes from what Heaney referred to as ‘a genuine impulse.’

THE MUMBLE : What is the poetical future of Matthew Rice
MATTHEW : Well, hopefully poems continue to be given, as that is where the real work is done; that inspiration continues to hold, and that ‘genuine impulse’ remains clear. Other than that, I have been included in the upcoming anthology ‘The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017’, being launched in London from Eyewear Publishing on 2nd April, and in Belfast on April 20th. I also have a poem in a future anthology in Scotland. I have a few poems forthcoming in one or two journals, as well as some exciting news I just received that has yet to be officially announced… But working towards my first collection is where the focus lies in the immediate future, continuing to refine and sharpen that manuscript, giving it the best chance of becoming my first book.

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