This past summer (2016) La Romita piloted its first ever Residency with the willing cooperation of Carlo Matos, writer & poet. Carlo spent a productive week camped out on the veranda overlooking the pass to Spoleto and allowed us to interview him about the experience.

You have been to many residencies, what did you like most about your overall experience at La Romita?

The grounds were immaculate and beautiful. Every day, I would sit outside in the gazebo overlooking the mountains and write for four to six hours. There were so many places to sit and think or write or have a conversation. Though I wasn’t part of the workshop that was happening at the time I was in residence, I did get to eat meals with the participants. I met all kinds of people over dinner and made some deep and lasting connections. I even met another UMass graduate. The food, it goes without saying, was amazing, especially the Tiramisu. It was death it was so good.


Why is a residency so important to you each year?

It’s absolutely necessary to be able to unplug from life for a short time. At a residency like La Romita, all my needs are taken care of so I don’t have to do anything other than write. I don’t have to save energy for doing errands or mowing the lawn. I can write at all hours, sleep when I want and not have to worry about the consequences it will have on the next day. That kind of freedom is hard to find in the real world, especially when you have an eight year old. It’s also important to meet other artists and share your work or just blow off steam after a long day at the keyboard.


What did you write while at La Romita in 2016?

I was working on two projects. The first is a collection titled #cleave, which is a series of occasional poems. While revising individual poems, I realized that the hashtag could make the conceit more self-evident. It was just Cleave when I arrived, but the hashtag, I think, clears up the notion that these are occasional poems without me having to explain it somehow in a note, which I really didn’t want to do. I don’t like explaining myself in this way. If the conceit isn’t utterly clear, then maybe it’s not the right way to go.


The second project I worked on was a collection of flash non-fiction essays called The Quitters. I’ve been working on this collection for a few years now, and it is currently being sent out to publishers. I have published two previous chapbooks that include many of the essays in this full-length collection. There are essays on mixed martial arts, archery, wrestling, teaching and any number of other topics.


Tell us more about #cleave.

#cleave’s theme is failure and foolishness. It is related to The Quitters but it comes at these ideas from a very different perspective. This collection takes a hard look at the way failure works in our culture, how it shapes the individual, how it manifests as an idea. I think it is poisonous to never fail or never quit. Many times, it is the morally rightchoice, and not because it provides some form of escape or some such thing but because it is the healthier, truer, or more honest choice.


What is an occasional poem and why is that form speaking to you?

An occasional poem is written for a specific time, or event, or person. I am into them because I have written so many of these kinds of poems for Poems While You Wait over the years. It’s also a completely new way of working for me and I am always on the lookout for opportunities like this, opportunities to develop new writerly obsessions. I was obsessed with the prose poem and the flash essay for years, but now I think I’ve found something new to take up my time. The irony is that these occasionals are the most nakedly personal poems I’ve ever written, which is odd since they were written for other people about other people.


Tell us about Poems While You Wait.

We are a group of poets who go to events all over Chicago with typewriters and sell poems. For $5, someone gives us a line, an idea, a thought and then we write a quick poem—about ½ sheet of paper—

in 15 minutes. They can give us as little or as much as they’d like in terms of content or inspiration. And for some reason, I keep writing in more traditional forms, which I’ve never really done. It just looks and feels better on the page with tighter stanzaic and line patterns.


Talk to us about your teaching.

I teach composition and creative writing at Truman College. Many of my creative writing students have never written poems before and don’t know how to express themselves in this way. It’s so exciting that I already have a few students who are starting to publish. One got 2nd place in a contest for African poets with a sonnet he wrote in class. I like being a part of that transition from personal writing to public writing. I am also in my third year as editor for City Brink, which is Truman College’s literary journal. Besides my teaching at Truman, I also teach an online workshop on the occasional for the Poetry Barn called Writing the Moment.


There should be a word
(in German, maybe)
for the way you buckle–
a word with shoulders
as broad and ill-fitting as Chicago’s,
a compound, polyglot word
that means I am missing a past
that is still in the present
from a future that has yet to happen.
This word would start with “X” or “Z”
and be both a noun and a verb.
It would be a contronym
and make the OED in record time.
Or maybe it would be a secret word
we pass along the string
of our clubhouse coffee-can telephone.
Or it might simply be a sad,
slide guitar kind of word
pretending to be fun but cleaving to
the shapeless, unquenchable, and crashing
yearning you had at 19
when you wanted something
(so bad)
but didn’t know what,
like Liv Tyler in Italy
worrying Hope Sandoval’s bottom lip:
and aware you are watching.



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