Capri Scarcelli | a&e editor
College life often keeps you from your creative pursuits, but it’s never too late to put your name out there.
Matthew Ussia, a teaching associate professor at Duquesne University since 2013, has since shifted gears from his UCOR, creative writing and literature theory courses to publishing his own book of poetry, entitled The Red Glass Cat.
Ussia described the book as “juxtaposing beauty and ugliness without either apologizing to the other.”
At age 16, Ussia and his friends were in the process of getting a band together, where he would soon find his love for lyricism and then poetry. Getting to college and graduate school, however, Ussia said he did not make the time for his writing –taking a 20-year gap.
Now, however, Ussia has been named Allegeny County’s Poet of the Week in City of Asylum’s Sampsonia Way magazine as of Feb. 3 – his grand return to the world of creative writing.
“This poem I wrote when I was 36 finally came out right,” Ussia said. “There were two stanzas. The first person I showed [the poem] to was my Duquesne office-mate, who told me to cut the second stanza. I spent about five years trying to make that second stanza work. So when I was submitting it to City of Asylum’s ‘All Pittsburghers are Poets,’ that was the moment when I realized that he was right, and now it’s the poem of the week.”
Ussia said it felt like a “level-up” when his work started to get published; this sparked Ussia to go back and refine his past works, adding a new level of maturity and professionalism to the poetry.
Though getting back into a rhythm of writing was challenging, Ussia said that submitting his poems became “part of the process” of getting the ball rolling again.
“I took this long, meticulous route to doing it. I started sending some poems out here and there to different websites, and it became the next step,” Ussia said. “And honestly when I started taking creative writing classes at Duquesne, I found that this counts as research toward professional development, so I thought ‘oh wait a minute, this is a part of the job? I can justify spending more time on this?’”
Ussia has a binder of over 100 poems that he, at a time, has only shown a few people close to him. When he found that there was an open call for Alien Buddha Press, he chose 70 of those poems to bring with him.
“I did it, and I did it without thinking too much about it,” Ussia said. “After red-shirting myself for long enough and putting this on the backburner, I thought, let’s just send it in and see what happens, and no matter what, I will have what I consider to be a proper manuscript. And they liked it – I got it on the first try.”
According to Ussia, Alien Buddha Press has a reputation for fast publishing. Lo and behold, his poetry book was published a week and a half after introducing his manuscript – an unheard of feat in the creative writing profession.
“I think it’s because I’ve ruminated over this collection for so long, the need for line-editing, revision or any of that was very little,” Ussia said. “I didn’t necessarily even need to call someone in to review the work because I’ve done all of that over the years, and I think it’s still abnormal and awesome that we’ve moved as quickly as we did.”
Putting it into perspective, Ussia said that he submitted a short story that took five weeks to publish, along with an anthology sent to Penn State on Jan. 15 that won’t come out until 2025.
Ussia, with his recent success, was furthermore recommended to a poetry group that he considers to be a “meeting of minds,” giving opportunity for collaborative editing and workshop models for future works, giving him added exposure to the publishing world with Facebook groups that share calls for submission. The group meets on Zoom once a month to compare and contrast their work.
“It’s an interesting little round-table. A friend ushered me in and honestly, I’m so honored to be surrounded by successful writers,” Ussia said. “You should always surround yourself with other creative people who want to do things and want to make things happen, because even when you’re in a moment where you’re uninspired, or you don’t know what to do, you can look over and somebody whose art you like is making something happen and you can learn from it, it can drive you forward. Writing is not solitary.”
Ussia emphasized how to “reflect on the process,” of poetry, saying that it takes time to adapt to writing anytime, anywhere, whether alone in a noiseless room or writing in crowded diners.
Giving advice to aspiring writers, Ussia said to “make time for your art” and “realize you are only racing yourself.”
“Have fun. It should be fun,” Ussia said. “And if it’s not fun, make it somehow rewarding.”
Ussia’s The Red Glass Cat can be purchased on Amazon or in a bookstore near you.