ONE MAN'S TRASH
... by Matt Chamberlain and Spreken
ONE MAN'S TRASH is a poetry collaboration, partly inspired by our lit-art project AN ASSEMBLANCE OF JUDICIOUS HERETICS.
We asked Matt and Spreken to tell us more about how the project came about.
Matt Chamberlain has published three poetry collections and has contributed writing to Confluence magazine, An Assemblance of Judicious Heretics
(Wordsmithery), the Magnolia Review and Wandering Words. He has performed his work regularly at festivals, literary events, charity gigs and open mic nights in Kent and London. He is the 2017 Vicar’s Picnic Festival Laureate. Read an interview with Matt in WOWKent.
Spreken began writing during her teenage years, winning various competitions early on and gaining honorary membership to the Poetry Society at sixteen. After a long pause she began writing again in 2014 and has been making up for lost time ever since; writing, performing, and participating in local projects such as An Assemblence of Judicious Heretics and Medway’s “Paint the Town” festival.
AUTHOR Q + A
What made you start writing?
MC: A mixture of sadness, loss and inspiration by a self-publishing get-up-and-go friend made me have a go at writing. Once I started doing it, I found plenty of latent 'stuff' in my head because I had always been a writer in my mind - I'd just never got round to taking the lid off the pen.
S: I grew up in a very creative household, and was always trying out different forms of expression from a young age. The artistic gene didn’t make it to me, but music and poetry did. I struggle to express myself fully in conversation, but in poetry somehow it just comes naturally. With the addition of the anonymity a pseudonym provided, it was the perfect outlet for a slightly unusual teenager.
Collaboration can be tricky, even feared by some - what made you want to collaborate with each other?
MC: Absolutely. I'm not a natural collaborator, really. But this one came together so easily. It was Spreken's idea. But my view is that An Assemblance of Judicious Heretics created the conditions for our project. In the margins of the launch night we noted that this event was essentially forcing collaboration upon solo sorts, like us. I think the other important thing was a great respect for each other's work. I'm a Spreken fan, and she's a fan of my stuff. So there is no jostling, no competitiveness. Unity allows the mind to concentrate on the work.
S: I never intended to collaborate with anyone! I’ve admired Matt’s work for years, but when, during a conversation, we both admitted we’d gotten stuck writing ourselves into downward spirals of poems about pain, injustice, trauma and the like, it was apparent we both needed a good shake up. A deliberate change of direction, and a partner on the journey seemed necessary, and the idea of a collaboration followed from there.
Going into it, did you have any fears and how were they overcome?
MC: I had no fears. I tend to exhaust all them before the point of agreement. That is to say, if I had any doubts about this person being good to work with, I'd walk far, far away. By the time the pen hits the paper, we're partners and that is that. I had no fears as such but if I had a slight anxiety, it was doing justice to this great co-author. The best thing is to work with people you admire - but in doing so you will create a slight pressure to merit their partnership.
S: My greatest fear was of being the weak link. I really didn’t want to let the project down, since we both felt it was, as a concept, artistically of great merit.
Matt’s support and honest critiques as we went along bolstered my self confidence to the hitherto unreached point of being happy with every poem in the book!
Explain the process. Do you normally respond to visual cues, or does your inspiration come from elsewhere?
MC: Responding to visual cues was precisely the process. I hadn't really done that before - previously just turning out whatever my heart was saying - but I do it a lot now. This project is this project and I don't think others will follow precisely in its footsteps. However, I do think it will add a layer to everything that follows. That's probably the most satisfying thing about it.
S: Normally I write what comes to mind, often at some ridiculous hour of the night, starting with a phrase, a line, or even just a few words which write themselves, and I build the rest up around them. Writing to a theme has always been a challenge, and a skill I wanted to improve upon. Receiving a photograph of rotting apples or a chimney stack and having to find a positive angle to write from really stretched me at first, but as the project progressed it began to take less time to get that angle and begin writing.
What do you each feel the others' writing has done to yours?
MC: For me, I was already pretty eloquent about sadness and I was already capable of expressing joys. But working alongside Spreken has, somehow, enhanced my ability to slide over the dividing line between the two. I was a more aggressive writer before I started immersing myself in her work.
S: Being involved in such a deeply connected way with another writer is always going to have an effect on your own voice. Matt has such a beautifully open, unguarded style of writing, while mine was caught up in cryptic metaphors and armour plating. As time went by I found I was becoming more open myself. Leading Lady, my final piece, is about me – obviously and honestly. It is a perfect ending for a project which taught me to embrace my talent, and to let my guard down to allow my voice to truly be heard.
What are your favourite poems, of each other, of yours?
MC: We like every piece in the book. We had the power of veto but didn't use it. But two of Spreken's pieces do it for me more than the rest - Underneath is a sublime poem and the first time I read it I beamed and punched the air. And Leading Lady came at a time when we were just wrapping up the project. I had a slight nervousness that excitement or impatience would cause us to knock out a substandard final piece in the name of getting it done. Trust her to save such a piece till last. Brilliant work. Of my own, I like How many hearts? and Picasso's Crystal Gems the best.
S: Without a doubt, my favourite poem of Matt’s is How many hearts? Inspired by a photo of my incredibly messy kitchen one afternoon, it moved me to tears when I read it. United Circle is my other favourite. I will admit there was a mischievous grin on my face when I sent him the photograph! He soon wiped it off though with the response that appeared in my inbox. Pure genius.
My favourite of my own? I honestly don’t know! If pressed for an answer, I think I’d have to say Leading Lady and Underneath. They were the easiest to find the angle for, but the hardest to write, so the sense of achievement is far greater.
Do you think this collaboration will alter the way you write?
MC: I think I have already answered this, above.
S: Most definitely. We had a fortnightly handover, where we sent the finished poem and the new photo. This meant I often had the idea floating around for a few days before putting pen to paper, and the finished piece sitting for at least the same time again. I made lots of minor changes in those last few days (except for Lifeblood, which was the second full poem I wrote for that photo!), and before writing played with ideas and angles in my head. It has taught me to slow down, to make sure I’m definitely finished working on a piece and polishing up all the details before I call it complete.
What's next? Writingwise...
MC: I want to plot for a little while now. But I do have the beginnings of an idea of doing something quite dark and angular with musicians adding the erratic heartbeat. Then again I want to do some light comedy. Maybe squeeze both ends till the middle pops?
S: I’m already working on a new collaboration with another poet, on the very different subject of baby loss. Other than that, I’m just continuing to write, participate in projects, and read at poetry nights where I can. It has been suggested to me I could take the wild step of putting together a collection of my own work as well, so that’s simmering on one of many back burners!
“Luminous descriptions and gregarious explorations of life’s detritus – from a ‘… small packet of dog shit’ to ‘The occasional daisy…’ the lines in these poems are as much a celebration as they are a verbal dance with the very uncommon, common images they describe. The two poetic styles make this collection both distinctive and thought provoking.”
Mark Holihan (There are no foreign lands, Cultured Llama, 2016)
“Chamberlain and Spreken’s work precariously balances the futility and the beauty of life in equal measure. One can see why they call themselves economical poets; in this volume they have taken the unnoticed detritus and debris of life and polished it beautifully, with patience and time, for our consideration. Doing so speaks of care, and within this volume, Chamberlain and Spreken’s work speaks of care, consideration and consciousness more largely, like all the best poetry.
Their work captures the fragility, and in places, futility of life. It accepts life’s nature, with insight. This conceptually interesting volume of poetry and photography explores the long standing relationship between visual art and writing, ‘the space between eye and hand’, as I like to call it. There’s a precious fragility to this poetry, and it’s a testament to the poets’ imagination that they squeeze everything out of the images provided, twisting them, making them metaphors, allegories, mythic, humorous, sharp and soft - running with them.
In Chamberlain and Spreken’s work there is a desire to communicate, question and challenge the status quo. The everyday is transformed within this volume, and if its example were followed, perhaps people would stop and consider the value locked in their surroundings more. Our surroundings aren’t always beautiful, we have to make them beautiful, we have to make life imitate art, and that is exactly what One Man’s Trash does.”