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We Who Are Named Matt Rohrer.

July 25, 2010 \pm\31 12:39 pm

It was during my second semester in the undergrad writing program at SF State, in 2003, while I was sitting on a stoop on Divisadero St. enjoying a cherry-pepper seitan sandwich from Jay’s Cheesesteaks, that a young woman from my Poetry 2 workshop walked up to me and asked me the question for the first time.

“Dude, did you know that there’s another poet named Matt Rohrer?”

“Really. I’ve never met anyone named Matt Rohrer. Or anyone named Rohrer even.”

“Yeah dude. He’s really good. I actually have his book in my bag.”

She furnished a copy of A Green Light and I held it in my hand. I was stoked to see my name in print. But being a young graffiti vandal at the time, I immediately felt anxious. In graffiti, if two writers use the same name, they will typically destroy each other’s work until one person gives up and switches names. If they are less reasonable people, the more established ­– or more violent one – will find the little punk who shares their name, and give them a mean eye jammy. In hindsight, it’s obvious for many reasons that these solutions would not apply to our situation. For one thing, as a kid I would always just start crying if it seemed like I was supposed to fight someone. Secondly, both of us were likely to want to keep our names no matter the cost. No amount of hacking would convince one of us to throw away Matt Rohrer. People get attached to things that they’ve had for their entire life. Lastly, since we were both poets, I could have assumed that we both possessed the minimum intelligence required to know that a beating over the head with a can of spray paint was not an effective problem-solving strategy.

The other Matt Rohrer was clearly more established than me because he had a book (I quickly learned that he had like 15). But at that time, I felt I was already knee deep in my literary career. I mean, I’d taken three Creative Writing classes, written lyrics for my hardcore punk band’s demo tape, distributed at least 17 copies of fortune cookie-sized poems that I bound up in old tea bags, and I’d had 3 poems published in my freegan buddy’s photocopied DIY zine, which included instructions on how to fix squeaking bike brakes, skin a road-kill deer, and give yourself an herbal abortion.  I was clearly way too established to switch to a pseudonym. There was no stopping the Rohrer train.

People have called me Matt Rohrer my whole life. They have literally called me by my government name, like, “What’s up Matt Rohrer!,” “Can I borrow a dollar Matt Rohrer,” “Are you my boyfriend Matt Rohrer?” The name requires both pieces to really pop. Like cider without sparkles, Matt without Rohrer is just some regular-ass juice. I googled “matt rohrer poetry,” and found out that Matt Rohrer was famous, and that he was reading at Pegasus Books in Berkeley the next month. I read a few of his poems that I could find online. What a drag, I thought. Practically no one on Earth decides to pursue this thankless quasi-career, and no one ever has the same name as me. But alas, there is another Matt Rohrer and he’s a poet. Worst of all, he happens to be good. Ugh. Aack. Humph.

An abbreviated account of what transpired next:

I went to Green Apple and bought a copy of A Green Light.

I liked it.

I went to Pegasus Books for the reading.

I introduced myself to the other Matt Rohrer.

He was friendly but did not believe that I was also Matt Rohrer.

I showed him my driver’s license.

I asked him if we shared ancestors from a village in Switzerland.

We determined that we did not.

We exchanged email addresses.

The reading was good.

Joshua Beckman read too.

I bought Shake.

I liked it.

I emailed the other Matt Rohrer a few of my poems.

He offered kind feedback.

I was happy that both Rohrers could peacefully coexist.

I proceeded as originally planned, rapidly blossoming into an upstanding young member of the literary community: I started a reading series pairing older, more established writers (Wanda Coleman performing during the open-mic portion of a reading I put on for my favorite poet, Linh Dinh, was certainly the highlight of the series) with younger, less established, but very awesome writers (Geraldine Kim, J.I. Evans, LJ Moore, Sara Wintz, to drop a few emerging names on your protruding feet). With some friends, I founded a press called Small Desk Press that puts out first books by San Francisco writers. I published my own work in some journals that I really liked. I started dating the best poet in America, who also happens to be a hot babe. Literary life was good.

Later, while finishing my thesis in the MFA program at SF State I began writing poems and chunks of narrative for a new manuscript entitled “The Matt Rohrer Project.” The one overarching formal constraint was that my name had to be included in every piece. Now that I’ve been working on this manuscript for about 3 years, I can look back and see that it began as an anticipatory attempt to create clarity, to establish that there are two Rohrers and they are two different people. I was trying to explore what a name means, how far one can wander from objectivity while using their self as a prompt, the various ways in which an artist re-creates their identity in this digital age; all the pretentious stuff that renowned critics of the future will need to determine. I also think that, even though I had abandoned my graffiti lifestyle, I was subconsciously applying graffiti tactics to literature: whoever uses the name most aggressively establishes his/her ownership.

I submitted portions of “The Matt Rohrer Project” to various literary magazines. Among them was Fence. Fence was, in my mind, the coolest lit mag around. I think the Suicide Girls cover was why. (Good literary magazines give boners and make vaginas drip.) I submitted to Fence knowing that the other Matt Rohrer had been a poetry editor there, but hoping that our shared name might work in my favor. Like they would think it was so cool and funny that there are two of us that they’d want to publish both Rohrers side by side. It would be the neatest literary oddity. Two Matt Rohrers: the albino crocodile of poetry. One of the editors of Fence, confused and concerned, forwarded my submission to the other Matt Rohrer, who promptly contacted me and asked me to alter my name with an initial in order to clarify who was who. I resisted, suggesting we have a Literary Death Match to determine who had rightful ownership of Matt Rohrer. The proposed literary death match was to have taken place in the middle of the country in order to eliminate any type of regional bias. I also suggested that I be West Coast Matt Rohrer and he be East (Which, in hindsight, was foolish, as I ended up moving to Brooklyn just this month. I never would’ve made it here with such a dubbing. My karmically inclined ‘87 Toyota van would have committed mutiny by blowing a head gasket when I crossed the Mississippi). My resistance was partly due to my own stubbornness and immaturity, and partly due to my being easily pressured by my supportive peers and professors: “Tell him that you’re gonna be the more established poet so he might as well change his name!” (Love is when people think you’re worth getting angry over.)

An abbreviated account of what transpired next:

The other Matt Rohrer responded, saying that we needed to solve the problem in a realistic way.

I consulted with my Mom and Dad, the original Rohrers.

I again consulted with my supportive peers and professors.

I again consulted with my Mom and Dad, the original Rohrers.

I decided on my eternal writing name.

I emailed the other Matt Rohrer and told him that, for publishing purposes I was now Matt L. Rohrer.

L for Lawrence, Larry, Lazzy, Lonnie, Lichtenberg, Lee, Latham.

The other Matt Rohrer responded positively.

I was happy that both Rohrers could peacefully coexist.

I went to AWP in Denver a few months back, prior to my move to Brooklyn, to show off Small Desk Press. I lost my badge the first day, and had to wander around nameless. What I learned at AWP: people are trying to sell stuff. If not, they’re trying to network. They can’t network with you if you have no name tag.

Every time I hung out with a new person long enough, they would always ask, “What’s your name?” “Matt,” I’d reply. “Matt who?” “Matt Rohrer.” Depending on whom they were, they would either: not care, look at me like I was some weird liar, or tell me how awesome I was, then thank me for contributing a poem to their literary journal. Now, as much as I like being told how awesome I am, it doesn’t feel good unless I know they’re actually talking about me.

So, literary friends of the future, please note:

Matt L. Rohrer is from San Francisco. Matthew “no L.” Rohrer – also known as just plain Matthew Rohrer – is from Oklahoma. Matt L. Rohrer has a curly brown beard. Matthew Rohrer’s face on the other hand is currently shaven, and if he were to grow a beard, it would be reddish in hue. Matt L. Rohrer wears black glasses, except when he’s surfing, which he does very often, which gives him a massive, muscular upper body. For a living, Matt L. Rohrer teaches English to high school students who are on probation. Do not confuse him with Matthew Rohrer, who teaches poetry at New York University. For now, both Rohrers live in Brooklyn, and from what I hear they both play music. Matt L. Rohrer’s band is called Golden West Service. They’re an awesome band.  Mind-blowingly awesome.

An abbreviated account of what transpired next:

I sent this writing to Matthew Rohrer.

He responded positively.

I posted it on We Who Are About To Die.

I knew my identity troubles were over.

Matthew Rohrer, in good humor, suggested we have that Literary Death Match after all.

I accepted and awaited confirmation of a date. (I’m reviewing my arithmetic after going down in an LDM final round last year because of a botched long division problem.)

I took a deep breath.

I knew my identity troubles were over.

I went into the kitchen in my Brooklyn summer sublet.

I took a deep breath.

My housemate walked into the kitchen and said, “Dude, did you know that there’s another poet…”

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9 Comments
  1. Nicole Steinberg permalink
    July 25, 2010 \pm\31 1:15 pm 1:15 pm

    Brooklyn might implode from all this Matt Rohrer radness.

  2. July 25, 2010 \pm\31 2:39 pm 2:39 pm

    Bravo! You know, some of us really were wondering how that all worked — I even asked that hot babe poet about it the other night. Let me help promote the Literary Death Match!

  3. July 25, 2010 \pm\31 4:34 pm 4:34 pm

    This would be a wonderful death match.

  4. Keith S. Wilson permalink
    July 25, 2010 \pm\31 8:52 pm 8:52 pm

    There’s another Keith Wilson poet. Thus the S in my name. Only nobody ever wants to put the S down when they publish my stuff, for some reason.

  5. July 26, 2010 \am\31 7:54 am 7:54 am

    Email me, and we’ll get you guys both slated in a LDM post-haste! toddzuniga@gmail.com. Though I think it should be in NYC. Since, you know, it’s easy.

    Brilliant!

    • July 26, 2010 \pm\31 2:22 pm 2:22 pm

      Amazing. I might have to fly out to New York to come watch this.

  6. Robin Elizabeth Sampson permalink
    July 29, 2010 \pm\31 10:59 pm 10:59 pm

    This is wonderful! You know there’s a strange likeness, you both being male and all.

    Shortly after I got my first couple of poems published I started using first my middle initial, and then my full middle name so there was no chance in hell I’d be confused with the other Robin Sampson writer lady. We write VERY different things. I’ll just leave it at that.

  7. August 1, 2010 \pm\31 2:37 pm 2:37 pm

    This is hilarious! There are also two poets named Nicholas Wong, one of whom is a friend. Fortunately, having Chinese first names as well as “Nicholas”, they’re able to easily make clarifications by using those initials as well.

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