Leslie Claire Amminson

Local writer Matthew Hollett has had a successful couple of months. In November of 2017, Hollett was awarded the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador’s NLCU Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers. Hollett was awarded a cash prize of $5,200, as well as $1,000 towards professional editing services. His winning manuscript, Optic Nerve, is a collection of poems “about photography and seeing.” At the SPARKS Literary Festival, which took place at Memorial University’s St. John’s Campus on January 28, Hollett received the Cox and Palmer SPARKS Creative Writing Award, which will allow him to participate in the Landfall Trust Residency Program in Brigus this coming spring. The Muse spoke to Hollett about his success, where he finds inspiration, and the people who have influenced him.

1. You recently received both the WANL Fresh Fish award and the Sparks Creative Writing Award. How does it feel to be having such a successful year?

I feel very fortunate, and I’m so grateful that there are opportunities like this for writers in St. John’s. I also feel determined to make the most of it, to write more and to try new things in my writing. The Fresh Fish and SPARKS awards will allow me to spend part of this year focussed just on my writing practice. I’m especially looking forward to the Landfall residency in the spring!

2. Can you tell us a bit about your favourite poets/writers and what makes their work stand out to you? Are there any in particular that you think have an influence on the way in which you write?

I read poetry, but I’ve been more captivated lately by very poetic nonfiction – Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss, and anything by Robert Macfarlane. I like books about walking and different ways of seeing. I especially love the warmth of imagination in Italo Calvino’s short novels and folktales. The last poetry book that really made an impression on me was Hypotheticals, by Leigh Kotsilidis.

3. Your poetry tends to have a lot of creative imagery, metaphors, and word play. How do you think having fun with words and visuals affects your writing?

Writing a poem is like creating a little compressed universe. You’re trying to express a scene or an idea in very concise language, and for me wordplay and metaphor are ways to layer meaning, to say more with less. I’m a very visual person, and often the shape or colour of something will make me think of something else, and that odd leap of visual logic is sometimes where metaphors or poems come from.

4. Can you tell us about your collection of poems? Are you working with an overarching theme or idea? What is it like to put poems together to make a collection, and how do you make the individual pieces cohere as a whole?

My unpublished collection of poems, Optic Nerve, is about photography and seeing. So for example, there are poems about drawing something from memory, about the colours and patterns in Japanese paper, and about how a woodstove is like a camera. I’ve been working on this collection for about three years now, writing new work and pruning things that no longer fit. It definitely gets better the more I work on it, and it could easily be a never-ending process, but I’m determined to send the manuscript to a publisher soon.

5. You have taken various creative writing courses at Memorial University (MUN). How have those workshops and any other educational/collaborative experiences helped you to grow as a writer?

MUN has such a wonderful and supportive creative writing program, and taking classes there has been so important to me since I moved to St. John’s three years ago. You learn so much by getting feedback on your work, and by workshopping other people’s writing. And classes are a great way to meet other writers – it’s how I met my writing group. I also participated in WANL’s Emerging Writers Mentorship Program, which is when I wrote most of the poems in Optic Nerve.

Photo Credit: WANL Fresh Fish Awards.