For our our fifth installment of “Why Write?” we hear from poet, photographer, painter, literary agent, and father Matt Bialer, who’s spent an enormous amount of time not writing — happily, it seems — but also an enormous time, we suspect, contemplating this question…
Why Do I Write?
Because I have to. Of course.
But I stopped writing for 25 years. I just couldn’t do it. I got back to it many years later. It was a long and educational journey.
Flash back to Vassar College, early 1980’s. I was a poet and prolific one at that. One of my primary mentors was Green Mountains Review alum Eamon Grennan. He is a great poet and person. He was my teacher long before he was published in the New Yorker and by Graywolf Press. We used to go for beers at an Irish pub in Poughkeepsie, New York and he was a great inspiration. We talked Yeats, WCW, Ashbery, Bishop, James Wright, Mark Strand, Keats, etc. He really spent time with his students. I was going to be poet for my whole life and I was going to be a professor of English. Or so I thought.
But then: Junior year abroad in London 1984. I had a lot of writing teachers there and I completely lost my confidence as writer. I was still young and I wasn’t prepared for the different approach used there.
I was in a crisis. I stopped writing. It was my fault. I depended too much on outside reassurance.
I graduated. I became a successful literary agent in New York. I was always around writers. And I picked up photography. Black and white street photography in New York. New rule: Never make art to please anyone else. Be true to myself. Listen to others you trust but trust your own instincts. Majority of One. It is ok to disagree with a teacher. A teacher can be wrong or just doesn’t get you. I placed my photographs in some major museum collections. And then I started painting watercolor landscapes. And I received a lot of attention for that as well. Same rules: Trust your instincts. Know who you are. Maybe we need to grow up to learn that.
Over the years, I stayed in touch with a bunch of poet friends. Eamon Grennan, Elisabeth Frost, Jennifer O’Grady, Kris Saknussemm. I got married, became a father and that enriched my life on many levels. I made a new poet friend (fellow Dad) Matthew Rohrer and I saw what a good and decent guy (and revered teacher) he is and how he made poetry and life pretty indistinguishable from each other. In the playground, we talked about poetry. But we talked about music and esoteric topics a lot more.
As a literary agent I have always been attracted to off beat topics. I represented an actual “remote viewer” (psychic spy) for the CIA and had many conversations with him about being able to “view” the past and how the government liked to sow the seeds of disinformation. I saw another psychic “bring through” a long dead saint and the psychic then spoke like an “oracle” to about 30 of us on the stage of a closed Broadway theater. She didn’t know any of us and she gave each of us very powerful, penetrating and knowing readings. It was eerie and uncanny.
As an agent, I was around an authority on crop circles, Roswell and a very famous conspiracy theorist. Whether one believes these topics or not, they make you think.
Some serious health issues occurred in my family, the kind that undermine what you think is your tranquil life.
And one day in 2009 I started to write again. And I haven’t stopped since. I was immediately attracted to some of these paranormal topics because I felt like that was a great way to get in some serious life and death issues, about different views of reality, things possibly bigger and greater than ourselves.
I learn more about life from writing. I am not one of those guys that sits in a café with my notebook and just writes. I find a subject…usually very outside of myself and I research it. And then I riff on the subject. As a photographer, I roam the streets and find images in what is “not me” and yet me on the streets. I comb, I edit, I seek, I find. And riff.
That’s what it’s all about for me.
I write because I can again.