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The Important Part Is The Part That Comes Out Of The Mystery

January 24, 2009 by · 4 comments

Interview with Matt Urmy by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Matt Urmy is a Storyteller, a Poet, and a Musician. He has recorded and released four independent records. He has also published one collection of poems,Ghosts In A House, with Finishing Line Press. This collection was published in his first term of graduate study at Spalding University in Louisville, KY. He completed his undergraduate studies of poetry at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

He is also the founder of the forthcoming not-for-profit: Global Artist’s Alliance for Community Equity ( Matt is also a student and practitioner of the Healing Arts. He has been working and studying with Maori healers in New Zealand for nearly a decade, and continues to deepen those connections. Ever the activist, Matt is also a full member of The Alliance For Native American Indian Rights. He is a father of one son, and lives in Tennessee.

You are known as a poet, playwright, visual artist and musician. How do these art forms interact within you?

Well, it’s an interesting question. The most honest response is to say, “I have no idea.” And I mean that in all sincerity. The creative process, for me, always begins with a series of mysterious events that occur invisibly, down in the dark. These events are always triggered by some event: an experience, or a memory firing into consciousness, or, and probably most often, they are the result of witnessing…

It’s there, in the invisible dark, that the initial magic takes place, and even the most aware and experienced artists, I believe, never completely gain insight into what happens in these moments. From those events; colors, feelings, words, images, and various kinds of music arise. Even the body responds in its way…like sweat, or trembling, or whatever. That is when I begin to reach out and grab hold of things…until this point, I’m reaching and dancing in blackness, with no predictable gravity or balance.

It’s when things begin to emerge that I can take hold to something tangible, and begin the physical work of fashioning a piece of art. Usually, it’s the first thing I can get hold of that determines what I initially run to with the inspiration. If I’m seeing colors, or certain kinds of images, I may fly toward my canvases and paints, or charcoal. But if I hear music or melody, I certainly race to the guitar, or if I need grounding, the piano. When words begin speaking in me, I go to the page…and once I have found the initial instrument, then I let it rain.

Next comes one of the most interesting parts of the process for me, because it involves the experience of another mystery, but one in which I am a direct participant…and by that I mean that my actions and responses influence how the mystery unfolds. The first set of mysteries I spoke of, occur with or without my consent, and do not need my input to complete their purpose. The only role I play in those mysteries is whether or not I will be open when they arrive.

This second mystery is one that depends upon my involvement to be complete. It is the mystery of transformation and synesthesic metamorphosis. For example, a series of colors and images will transform into a rhythm and melody before my eyes. Or, an emotion will become a story. This metamorphosis can happen as many times as is necessary for the inspiration to find its body.

I only follow the changes and work them into the forms they take…listening all along, as they tell me whether or not they are home. When it is all said and done, what was initially an image of tree beside a dirt road can become the ballad of a mechanic from Appalachian Kentucky. It is an amazing process, a truly divine experience, and one that I am completely taken by.

You have studied creative writing and poetry in your undergraduate studies. You just graduated with an MFA in poetry. How early in your life did you understand that poetry would be so important to you?

Again, and I apologize, but my most honest response to the question is a bit boring, and might even seem to be evasive…but I assure you I am being fully candid when I say that I don’t know. I truly feel that there is very very little about poetry that I understand. And chief among those things is how and when poetry came and took hold of me.

I don’t know if it was encoded into my genes, or if it was a dream I had when I was young, or if my parents simply encouraged it at the right time. I remember a Christmas morning sometime in my later childhood when I opened a gift, and it was a book called, Love Is A Stranger, by Rumi. I opened the book, and inside found an inscription from my mother that simply said, “May the poet you are emerge.” I remember feeling a rush of some kind when I read that, as if some permission had been given to me…as if some confirmation I had been waiting for had arrived.

But, in my parent’s attic are poems that I had written years before when I was very young, and those poems are all childish trifles, but nonetheless, I was writing rhymed lyric. So, who knows? It’s so hard for me to look back and put my finger on so many realizations I’ve had, and then it’s very easy to do with some. The fact that I can’t place a specific time that poetry came to me, I guess means that it’s been with me a long time, if not all along.

You are interested in studying with indigenous cultures around the world. Please tell us a bit about what you have learned through these studies that that you would not have been able to learn otherwise.

Well, it’s true, I am interested in indigenous cultures, but I feel a more accurate word would be compelled to go and learn from them. In my experience, the indigenous peoples of the world are the deepest source of wisdom when it comes to being awakened and in touch with the natural rhythms of our earth and larger universe.

Also, I am very moved to play whatever small role I can in the work that must be done to restore balance and healing between our world’s indigenous cultures, and the cultures that have persecuted, oppressed, and stolen from them for centuries.

As far as what I have learned from them, the list is too long for an interview. So, I’ll focus on the issues that originally drew me to seek relationships with the First Nation Native North Americans, and the Maori people of New Zealand.

Music, interestingly enough was my first encounter with Native American people. I had been dreaming of a flute made of wood, and I wanted one so so badly. Well, my mother came home from a crafts fair in Centennial park in Nashville, TN and told me she had met a man that made flutes and asked if I was interested in getting one from him. I exploded, and told her I would do anything for that, (this is in my early twenties, if that helps as a reference). So, we drove two hours to his house, and he laid all of his flutes out on a table in front of me and told me to choose.

I remember running my fingers over them, and stopping on one that had caught me right away. After several passes I kept coming back to the same one. So, I picked it up and the man nodded and winked in affirmation. Then, he sat me down across from him, picked up his flute, and we began to play together. It was the first time I had ever held a flute, and it came as naturally as breathing. I’ll never forget that: us sitting there, maybe two feet apart, staring in each other’s eyes, playing our flutes.

A couple of years after that I met a group of Maori healers in Nashville that were travelling through, and they performed their healing work on me. To say the least, it was a life changing experience, and at their invitation, I began an apprenticeship with them straight away. My initial motivation was to learn as much as I could about their healing work, and to receive as much healing as I could.

But what evolved was a journey they took me on into understanding who I was, and what my unique powers were, and how to use them. This of course, was a strange and humbling journey that involved me making an ass of myself on many occasions. Thank God for their patience and compassion!

I began to understand ancestry, and the importance of knowing and understanding one’s ancestry. It was then that I realized that neither myself, or anyone in the Urmy family had much of a clue about our ancestry. So, my journey began, and it is one that I am still on.

Now I find myself revolving in and out of orbit with different folks, and of course, I have maintained profound relationship with my teachers (the ones still living on earth, and those elders that have moved on…). I don’t know that there is any more I can say about it right now…

You are a father and often talk about how important your son is to you. What does fatherhood give you?

Wow. Well, fatherhood is the most profound thing in my existence. I am astounded and amazed every day at what has opened up to me, and inside me, since the day I found out I was to be a father. I won’t lie, it is the most humbling, exhausting, and difficult journey I’ve encountered in my life, but all of that dissolves compared to the depth, complexity, and magic in the love I experience in and around me since he’s been born.

Fatherhood gives me first and foremost: love. So in a strange way, it gives me power. I have achieved amazing things in my life since he’s been alive. I have found strength and power inside me that I had no access to or knowledge of previously. I know it comes from the love. From accepting my son with an open spirit and heart.

I am going to stop here before I digress into a deluge of emotional clichés and mushy stories…Let me just say to anyone and everyone who is an artist and afraid or nervous about becoming a parent…I am with you. I was so afraid I would lose my life, my independence, my creativity, and my freedom. I was so very wrong. All of those things have drastically increased in my life. I am more alive in every way. The secret to achieving this is to be able to invoke the warrior spirit.

The warrior will give you the endurance to see your visions and dreams through, even when the mind and body grow weak. If you can learn how to be a warrior, then nothing can take away your passion and purpose. Funnily enough, it was becoming a parent that taught me about the warrior, and gave me the power to stand in my truest self. So, don’t be afraid, parenthood is the most amazing thing a human can experience in this world…if you open your heart to it. You have to open your heart to it, and give yourself to it.

What did the publishing of your first book “Ghosts in a House” mean to you?

Well, publishing the first book was a kind of cornerstone. I had no idea how the process went…any of it…from putting the poems together, to submitting to a publishing house, I was clueless. So, I just went with my guts on putting the book together.

I recognized then, as I do now, that the book is no great masterpiece, but for me it was the height of my powers at the time. I was drawing on all the juices I had access to, and the book was what got born. It was an initiation for me in many ways. It set a tone for my whole life as a publishing poet, I guess.

You are currently working on your second book. How is it different than the first?

This book is different in lots of ways. First, I am in a different place, I am a different person now than I was then. When I wrote the first book, I was about to be a father. Now, I am a father, and those two worlds are quite different. For example, I am not quite as wild as I was then…at least most of the time, so the process has evolved for me.

And that is a good thing, and certainly not something I want to try and control. I have to find new ways to get into the spirit of the material. New ways into the fire. It is a challenge, a riddle, and a lot of fun! Also, the subject matter has changed, or at least the vantage points the voices in the new book are seeing and singing from have changed.

One thing that I like to focus on is what places, times of day, or moods, or kinds of weather, or which kinds of alcohol…whatever….which ones are bringing me toward the mysteries. That’s when I know that I am close to poetry. So, the ways to invoke those movements in me will always be changing, I guess. It’s a process I don’t want to understand, but one that I always want to be in the middle of.

And of course, I have learned a lot about the artisanship of poem making since my last book came out. So, I guess I have a bigger toolbox, and a more refined knowledge of how to use the old ones as well as the new ones. I relate to carpenter friends of mine that have the new modern power tools, but never want to lose the ability to accurately get the job done with the old hand tools.

I don’t want to become confused by the poetic techniques I use to fashion the verse. The techniques are nice, and they produce lovely pieces, but the important part is the part that comes out of the mystery, the fire. That’s where I am most interested, most alive.

If you had one extra hour every day, how would you spend it?

He he…well, it would depend on the time of the day the extra hour was placed….if it was placed at night, I would want to spend it drinking and smoking outside, with friends, beneath the stars and moon. Do I get to choose the weather for this extra hour?

Can I make it always warm and clear? If so, that’s what I choose, the stars and moon, good spirits, and music, and friends coming and going…if it is placed in the middle of the day, I would spend it sitting at home, alone, in absolute quiet. I would lay in the sunbeams that come in through the windows onto the rugs.

I would watch dust particles bouncing in the sunlight. I would read, write, and sit in the silence….if it came at twilight, I would go to a river and sit….if it were late afternoon, I would garden, or cook…if it were early in the morning I would always use the extra hour to sleep and dream!

What would you wish for the readers of Public Republic?

Magic..Mystery…true emotion running freely through their bodies…love, above all, real live love…I wish the world, the depth and breadth of living in this indescribably sacred and beautiful world. I wish them their own most honest lives…

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