An Interview with Matthew Dawkins

photo credit: Jack Bradley

Matthew Dawkins is a Jamaican award-winning author and poet whose work focuses on subjects from his personal experience such as adolescence, love, loss, culture, and mental health. Until We Break is his debut novel set for release in Fall 2022.

You can read his poem Suffering through January in the January 2023 issue of Pinhole Poetry.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context? 

I think our time is increasingly dystopic in the way people my age criticize and consume information critiquing the harms of a dystopia and, while identifying these exact omens in our daily lives, we – for the most part – look the other way. The problem is more complex than that, of course. A lot of our inaction can be attributed to systemic power structures and even basic coping, but the attitude we have towards accepting our possible dystopia fascinates me, nonetheless. Instead of blankly deciding I won’t have kids for fear of the world they will inherit or switch off the news for TikTok, as my peers and I often do, I wanted to attempt facing what is as real as cement around me. 

I wanted this poem to interrogate me; what are the signs of our condition that make me saddest? And, in acknowledging that very real world around me, how things could come to a close, would there be room for love?

Why was the poetic form the best fit for this particular piece of work?

Poetry, for me, has always been about asking questions in immediate ways. You read a poem and a singular line is begging you to decode it, it’s asking to be understood. I wanted to ask all the questions I mentioned earlier with urgency. I wanted to force my reader to wrangle with the world they would return to, without leaving room to self-distract.

How do you revise your work? 

It’s rigorous, and I wish I could offer a better response but that is the truth. I usually revise by asking myself, at the heart of it all, what am I trying to say? Then, once I decide the poem is in fact saying those things, I start to ask am I saying it well? Then, it is a trial-and-error process of figuring out what works. Always, I read it aloud. Then, if it sings, I ask someone else to read it. If they are challenged by the poem in the ways I intended, then I know I’ve hit something good.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

As a full-time student, it’s hard. I search for poetry in the spaces between work that often pulls me away. This is usually the case while commuting to and from school, but also, sometimes it happens in the middle of a conversation with someone else. My friends find it both hilarious and odd, but more times than not something they say will prompt me to immediately write it down for an idea I’d like to explore later. I like to tell them it’s their fault for being so brilliant.

All this is to say, where I can, I make the time.

What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you? 

I return to Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things often. When I read her work, I can hear her saying it to me in my head. I think that vocality in poetry is something I strive for, not to mention the way she handles subjects is exceptionally complex and necessary.

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