Sharon & David Mathews are a mother and son duo from Chicago. The pair recently started co-writing poetry and recently published their first poems. They took a break to reflect on their collaborative partnership for TRUE.
David: I guess we should start with how we started writing poetry together.
Sharon: Recently, within a span of a few months, I was hit with multiple diagnoses. First loss of vision, possible diabetes condition, uterine cancer with rounds of radiation, which was followed by heart surgery.
D: And that’s when you gave me your old poems.
S: In case something happened, I just wanted you to have them and share them with your sisters.
D: They are typewritten poems on aged paper. I read them and realized they documented what I call our “jailbreak” from my abusive stepfather, his family, and poverty.
S: What I had given you was just rough drafts. They were like thoughts, just written down. I didn’t try to do them over.
D: How could you? You went to back to school, raised three kids while working odd jobs, and slowly planned our “jailbreak.” One of the things I love about writing poems with you is I feel I’m correcting an injustice. I also hoped it would help with your recovery.
S: At first, I couldn’t talk much about my illness, so eventually you did inspire me to write it down on paper. That’s when we talked about a co-writing poems and working towards a chapbook together. We had always shared our feelings about what we had been through, so it was natural to think we would put it in writing somehow together.
D: I remember telling you about Eclectica Magazine’s Word Challenge. They give poets four words and you have to seamlessly incorporate them into a poem.
S: I remember.
D: And you were like, “I don’t know what to do with these words.”
S: It was like I was afraid to begin because I wouldn’t stop. I know I am a writer, because it takes over and drives me somehow.
D: And then an hour or so passed and you handed me pages of notes.
S: While I was doing that, you were reimagining a rough draft of one of my stronger poems from way back when.
D: That first “bunker mode” weekend was like a crash course in creative poetry writing. I tried to not overwhelm you with my tips, my system or approach, how I use templates or layer with references, and you know yadda yadda yadda…
S: You told me to have a sketch notebook of ideas—even if they were just a few words or a line.
D: Richard Jones at DePaul taught me that. He sees connections between poetry and painting. He talked about sketching, about small canvas, medium canvas, and large canvas poems. I thought that would help free you on the page.
S: You also showed me how to go about reading about poetry writing.
D: We got lucky finding A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver at Half Price Books.
S: I started reading poetry more again, contemporary writers, and new ways to find poetry—I never knew how much poetry was on YouTube or about all these online journals.
D: I wanted you to see how unrestricted you can be—how contemporary poets mix old influences with new ideas, and so could you.
S: Our second “bunker mode” weekend was when Proximity Magazine contacted us!
D: It was just a few days after our first poem together was published online.
S: We were just developing a way to do this together.
D: What a great time to reflect on it.
S: We started writing separately and then sharing and exchanging.
D: For the most part, I take your first drafts, go over them, and bring back suggestions to you which we then sort out together.
S: I know you have a lot of experience, so I sit back and listen—it helps me grow.
D: I try not to act like a teacher but an equal partner—I am always in fear of stifling your voice.
S: I feel we are equal partners. Most of the lines we use are mine—the breaks, enjambments, the added layers of meaning are yours—which help me learn more about this craft. We learned how to share these pieces and it’s helping me be more open as a poet.
D: I didn’t want to be like the white editor of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
S: I never thought about being published—it was your idea.
D: I wanted to pay you back for helping me with my poetry—you’re the first and strongest supporter of my work.
S: I wrote as a young girl up until my twenties. And I have not really written for almost forty years. I wanted this to be a gift I gave my son, to write.
D: When did you know you might be a writer?
S: When I first noticed? As long as I could remember, when I read books, I struggled to stay in the story because I kept noticing how the author wrote his words. I wondered how or why they made their choices. I was in love with John Boy on the The Waltons, he was based on Earl Hammer Jr. How his words about his simple life touched you. How his dedication to writing was his life dream—you know? I also have always loved poetry and tried to read all types, even though I did not understand them. Again, I noticed how they wrote and especially how they ended the poems. As I went through the struggles of a dysfunctional life, I tried to journal, like John Boy, to get the pain and feelings out.
D: And you have. I know where I got it from—it’s why we work together well.
Sharon & David Mathews are a mother and son duo from Chicago. Sharon enjoys reading multiple books at the same time, frequently visiting her grandchildren, and of course shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”). Coming back to poetry with encouragement from her son, her recent work can be found in Eclectica Magazine. David earned his MA in Writing and Publishing at DePaul University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclectica Magazine, After Hours, CHEAP POP, One Sentence Poems, OMNI Reboot, Word Riot, Silver Birch Press, The Ghazal Page, and Midwestern Gothic.