Matthew Freeman has been a poet since he was a teenager in Dogtown, St. Louis. Since then he has fallen in love, traveled the country, and sung his songs. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 24, he drifted in and out of hospitals before finally beginning his recovery. He now lives and writes in the Loop. Darkness Never Far (Coffeetown Press) is his third collection of poems exploring the impact of mental illness on language and mythos. He is the editor of Walrus’ own, Floodstage, an anthology of St. Louis poets.
In addition to frequenting local open mic nights and poetry readings, including Last Fridays at Café Nura in Webster Groves. Matthew will be reading at The Way Out Club on Cherokee on September 2 as part of the celebration for the working class. Visit the Walrus Event Calendar for event listings.
Tell us about your background and passion for writing.
When I was a kid, I didn’t have much passion, I thought maybe I’d be a lawyer, I was a pretty good ballplayer, until a beautiful girl revived me. She liked poetry and the Doors, Jim Morrison– suddenly I was alive, but falling, the sensation was one of falling. Everything clicked– I knew my life’s work would be poetry. It was like Christmas morning, a wonderful surprise. Suddenly I quit all sports and began to read, really read, lines like a daemon partner started coming. I was innocent at first–but I had always loved language.
When did you first get published?
I went under for many years, under in every sense, got some poems published here and there but lost all belief in myself. Friends encouraged me, yet I didn’t get a whole book published until I was like 33!
It was published by Ginninderra press in Australia. They liked my weird story, the symptoms I’d experienced that had everything to do with language.
You are very involved in the St. Louis literary community. How did it lead to the Floodstage anthology?
Contrary to all intuition I began to enter the poetry community–readings with retirees and young anarchists, readings with formal stuffy guys and readings with free-verse enthusiasts. I hit the whole community, like I was Ezra Pound or something. Then a few years later I met Lisa [Miller] and she told me she was starting a publishing house [Walrus]. I pitched her the idea for a local anthology, something that had never been done, and we just went with it. Regrets: I now know about twenty more poets who should be in that book. That book is a record, a snapshot of a very particular scene during a particular time.
As a long-time St. Louisian, what do you love about your hometown?
I LOVE St. Louis and “place” is very important to me and my poetry. When I was a kid I loved reading some poet mentioning somewhere I had been. I like everything: from the hipsters to the Hoosiers. I dig baseball and porksteaks, UMSL and Wash U, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been around this whole country–I played songs up in New York and worked the fishing boats in Alaska–but St. Louis will always be home to me. I like the smells. There’s a different smell down by SLU as compared to downtown.
What’s your “day job”?
I’m so lucky! I have this gig as a poet in residence and teaching at Adapt, Missouri (an organization that provides support for adults living with mental illness). I get to be a full-time poet, which I always claimed to be anyhow. When I was a kid starting out, I thought a poet just stayed alone in his room and got drunk. What I’ve found is that a poet does have a “place” in the world: Shelley taught me that.
What other passions keep you busy?
I just love reading and writing. My dream is to walk into the wilderness. I like walking, I like buses, I like smoking and drinking soda, I like conversation. Teaching is okay and I’m getting better at it.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t go around causing pain and disorder: life will deliver enough of that on its own.