Interview with Matt Betts
Matt Betts is a pop culture junkie-sometimes to levels that are considered unhealthy by the Surgeon General. He grew up on a steady diet of giant monsters, comic books, robots and horror novels, all of which creep into his own work. Matt’s speculative poetry and short fiction have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals. His poem “Godzilla’s Better Half” was nominated for a Rhysling Award for speculative poetry in 2010. Matt’s first novel, the steampunk/zombie/alternate history adventure Odd Men Out was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award for excellence in independent publishing. Matt is a former radio personality and news reporter. He currently lives in Ohio with his wife and sons.
HWA: Where do you see the state of poetry in the horror genre today? Where do you see it going in the future?
MB: I’ve always found poetry hard to pin down, especially genre poetry. It’s tough for me to look at collections, journals and websites and really get a feel for a direction that it might be heading. It’s always so fluid that once I feel I have a grip on a trend, it seems to disappear quickly. I am constantly amazed by what I read from fellow poets. Genre poetry opens up so many possibilities; so many ideas to the poet that I couldn’t begin to guess where it would go next. It seemed for a while that technology would change the way we told stories, or at least the way we presented them. But really, I don’t see anything changing as far as what we write. It’s just words now, and I think it’ll always be just words at the heart of it.
HWA: With Underwater Fistfight, you combine horror and humor in order to heighten each, what was the motivation for that particular ‘voice’? How do you describe this collection when asked?
MB: I’ve always enjoyed injecting humor into my work, whether fiction or poetry. I grew up watching Monty Python and Saturday Night Live and I loved staying up late to watch David Letterman. I read quite a bit then–lots of sci-fi and fantasy, comic books, novels, and whatever else I could get my hands on.
When I was in college, one of my favorite jobs was working as a waiter in a comedy club. I’d watch famous (and not famous) comedians try out new material and fine-tune their act over the course of a week. It was interesting to see how they would change out a single word one night, or pause a little longer, or use a facial expression for better effect. It was a real class in creativity and editing for me. The good performers learned how to make their material better and worked at it. And I always wanted to follow that example. For a while I thought I might want to try to be a comedian, but I saw so many people bomb on that stage, that I didn’t think I could take that kind of rejection on a constant basis. Poetry is so much safer, right? No rejections there.
I describe Underwater Fistfight as a collection of beguiling misdirections. I like having fun with form and expectations. I like turning clichés on their ear, and there is nothing I love more than turning left when someone expects me to turn right. Sometimes the humor in my work is a set-up for something a little more serious within a piece, but my hope is that readers have fun when they read my work.
HWA: Do you have a particular favorite from this collection you’d be willing to share?
MB: Sure. This poem is one of the earliest ones I had published. It was based on this particular toy I had when I was a kid.
Notes on Ordering a Deathbot by Mail
It is always
to say the least
with interchangeable arms
to get the combination
for left limb
The claw is probably
decision by far.
It is the least
destructive and yet
most versatile choice.
on one side
on the other?
The worst part
is the appalling
lack of colors available
to the consumer.
Silver, gray, gold maybe.
Some kids save
all their lives
for a blue and red
the grenade launcher
dart gun combo
Only to be
severely let down
HWA: What are you working on now?
MB: I’m working on a sequel to my first novel, Odd Men Out. I’m also editing another novel and I’ve been editing another book I’ve been reworking for some time. And, of course, I’m always writing new poetry. I collect bits and pieces and lines and titles over the course of a few months and then I pick up all the scraps and put them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes it’s easier than that, a poem comes easily, but I kind of enjoy finding notes that I don’t remember writing and constructing something new from them.
HWA: How vital do you find organizations like HWA to horror poetry? Is there anything you’d like to see HWA do to promote horror poetry?
MB: I think poetry could use a few more organizations like the HWA. I don’t think there are enough groups that get the word out and champion speculative and especially horror poetry. I’m constantly describing my work to people, only to find they had no idea horror poetry existed. There are lots of great venues for our work, just not that many organizations to help poets get started or get information about the genre.
The HWA has opportunities for contests and showcases, but I’d love to see more. An anthology once a year or even every other year to showcase horror poetry would be a lot of fun to read, just to have another source to read great poetry and find awesome new poets.
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