Esther Mathieu On Obsessions, Landscape & Mythology in Writing
Night On the Isle
These fragile hours
with all their broken-china pieces
laid in sand-sliding succession,
which I hold in the hollows of half-cupped hands
and long shining currents of sea-darkened nets,
these long evening archipelagos
are swallowed by the creeping onset of dark.
They are lighting in its depths,
like so many wind-scattered stars,
like so many harbor lights
rootless in the blooming night.
These soft rustlings of time against the expanse of darkness
are, in all their splendor,
humming, low and full of the soft whisper-husks
of words and afternoons
and slow tides,
a conglomeration of separate things
slipped into deep seams of sky
with careful, calloused hands
that grasp with purpose these half-muttered moments,
these eagerly forgotten slips and gullies,
quiet in the steady rush of painted numeral faces,
and recall them to eyes cut deep and yearning.
These hours, broken on the shore
in foam and sharp-edged shards,
are the pocket-threads and full smooth ink
and the violent, far-away burning of the stars,
of our breaths, uncounted,
and of the unmeasurable meter
of this sanguine waltz between light and light.
Beachbound Yearning of Hero and Sea
Which desperate blue beginnings
etched lightly in storied legends
of feet on hot sand
at the edge of the world—
blazing under the fire of midafternoon stagnancy
the thrum of the world moving
beyond this stillness—
will amount to something solid?
—to the filtering of air through wings,
stretch of broad, feathered whiteness
hung in the heady altitude of sky.
Which of these many half-utterances,
half-formations of fluttered motion,
slowed by the down-pressing of heat,
will build from these splintered pilings
to the half-dreamed spires of windswept, time-beaten sand?
—which ought, in half-majesty,
with half-squalid near-histories half-remembered,
to sing in silence, through the hazy practicality
of dry throats and lethargy
and the spans of so many half-known secrets
passed along lazy ramblings of arm through humid air,
of this place where the horizon is spread to its thinnest spindles
and there is only salt and the halfness of sea and land
and the broad thin turn of wing against nothing above?
Q & A with Esther Mathieu and editor Joanna C. Valente
Talk to me about your line breaks. How do you determine them?
For me, line breaks come about mostly through speaking my poetry. Sometimes, the process of writing a poem begins to feel like breathing, and the line breaks are the places where I need to stop and breathe again. Or rather, perhaps, the line breaks are the separation between the discrete, living breaths of the poem itself.
What would you say is your obsession right now? As poets & artists, we are sometimes defined by these obsessions in our work.
Three of my most persistent obsessions are mythology, the ocean, and outer space. Constellations, I think, very much came from those places, and the work I am doing now is growing out of there as well. I was able to take Astrophysics at school last year, which was exciting for me–I love to be able to study and learn and I find that those preoccupations, academic or otherwise, are often the things that most become vehicles for the things my poems need to say. I am also obsessed with finding ways to articulate the truth about living as a young person with mental health issues today–trying to find the ways to say what it feels like inside of depression and anxiety, trying to tell other people, but also trying to tell myself.
You’re from New York, but attend college in Maine. How do those landscapes affect your poems?
The contrast between the landscapes of New York City and central Maine is, I think, fundamental to my poetry. I have always lived in New York City, and that metropolitan landscape is the one in which I am most at home–the wealth of motion and opportunity there is both exciting and exhausting to me. But Maine has always been one of my favorite places–my family has vacationed there for my whole life, and getting to live there is amazing. It is a place where one believes that fairy tales could happen. It is so strikingly different from my home, but it is, in it’s own way, also my home, and I am comforted by both of these places, for all of their differences. All of that comfort and identity is the very fabric of the poems I am writing now.
Who writes your poems—what part of you?
I feel sometimes as though there are dozens of small voices packed into my the space below my ribcage, and it is all those disparate voices who are writing my poems. I think perhaps that is most true coming from a place where I am trying to articulate the difficulties of dealing with depression and anxiety, themes that are as unavoidable in my poetry as they are in my life.
It is most certainly not my depression that writes my poems, just as I am not my depression, but that struggle is one that all those many voices packed inside my ribcage have had to deal with and know intimately, and I think that they are all very much trying to speak about that, among the many other truths that matter to them. But when you really get down to it, I feel very firmly that those small voices are just the many parts of my conscious and living self, of the woman I am becoming and who she is in her daily life.
I’ve always felt my poems come alive after they’ve been edited—as if I’m carving a poem, rather than writing it. Would you agree or disagree with this?
I think I’ve always had a kind of secret shame about this, because so many of my favorite writers have disagreed with me, but for me there is nothing more powerful and exciting than the poem as it first begins to emerge. I would agree that there’s a separate and spectacular kind of life in the poem as and after it’s edited, but for me the most raw and living moment of creation is the most exciting and spectacular–that moment in which there is no one and nothing but me and the poem is a glorious escape for me, and it is incredibly liberating, and makes me feel incredibly strong.
*Editor's Note: This article has been republished from our new site.
Esther Mathieu was born in Manhattan and grew up in Queens, NY. She currently attends Colby College, where she is pursuing a degree in Environmental Planning, Media, and Design. Her poetry has appeared in Pequod, Troubadour, The Cambridge Tradition, and Young Poets Speak Out. Her first collection, Constellations, was just released by Hunt and Light.