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"In that Glittery Dirt": An Interview with Elijah Matthew Tubbs

Elijah Matthew Tubbs lives and writes in Arizona. Recent work is featured in Passages North, Sonora Review, Connotations Press, and elsewhere. He is co-founder of ELKE "a little journal."

His essay, "By Way of Salt," appeared in Issue Ninety-One of The Collagist.

Here, Elijah Matthew Tubbs talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about salt in myths, learning from research, and writing in a desert.

Please tell us about the origins of your essay “By Way of Salt.” What sparked the initial idea and caused you to start writing the first draft?

I was sitting at my desk at work and I realized it was time to write a new essay. I had read an essay by Daisy Hernandez on Brevity during my lunch break and that kicked me into gear. It is such a great piece of nonfiction titled “Wings”.

I am slow writer, especially when it comes to prose, so when I have that urge to write prose (I generally write poetry) I must run with it, quick and hard.

I had been thinking about Sodom and Gomorrah as a topic for a while and after a little research I found I was more interested in the salt pillar that Lot’s wife turned into. After that I just kept finding more and more information about salt and its many implications in other religions and cultures.

From Buddhist tradition to Norse mythology, writing this piece seems like it must have required a wide breadth of research. Is research a regular part of your writing process? How do you do your research? Is it something you enjoy?

Yes, research is key to my writing process. Normally my in-depth research comes during revision, where the first draft is more so smearing the page with ideas.

My research generally comes from searching the internet as it is the most accessible for me.

Research is very enjoyable in my opinion. Many times, I am learning about the topic as I write about it and that makes the writing process very exciting for me. I really hate when people say, “Write what you know.” If I did that, I’d be writing the same thing over and over.

There seems to be some specific intention between the amount of white space that appears between some paragraphs in this piece. Why is this level of separation significant to you? What purpose do you have in mind, if any, for these absences?

Mainly the white space is just barriers between the vastly different myths and traditions I talk about. It looks a little more dramatic now that it’s up and online than it did on my computer screen, but for me it is simple as separation of ideas on the page, for clarity’s sake.

Your bio says that you live and write in Arizona. Are you a transplant or a local? Because I have lived in Arizona for a few years, I am curious how writing from Arizona might differ from other work. How do you think life in a desert climate has influenced your writing?

I was born in southern California but grew up in Cave Creek and attended Arizona State University. I am local.

I think, in my poetry more so, Arizona is extremely influential. Even if I am not writing specifically about the desert, the desert landscape is there somewhere in there. In the form, the tone, or mood. My heart will always lie here in that glittery dirt, wherever else I may be. 

What writing project(s) are you working on now?

Right now, I am finishing up a chapbook of poems, titled “Stomping Ground and Other Poems.” I am hoping to send it out this winter. Stomping Ground is a twenty-part serial poem, and then there’s the others too.

Along with the chapbook, I am looking to apply to an MFA program this admission cycle. I am writing all the statements and essays that come with that long process.

What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

Eliot Weinberger. Particularly the book of essays, “Karmic Traces” from New Directions. That book, along with his others, have forever changed me as a writer and directly influenced the essay “By Way of Salt”.

I have also been reading a lot of Larry Levis again since watching the documentary, “A Late Style of Fire,” which I also highly recommend.

Lorine Niedecker and Louise Mathias are others I have been reading lately as well. They are both fantastic poets. I recommend getting Niedecker’s collected poems from University California Press and Louise Mathias’ “The Traps” from Four Way Books if interested.

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