Poet Adrian Matejka Enlightens Students on the Writing Process at Working Writer Series Event

By Sarah Carter ’24

News Editor

On Thursday, November 11, 2021, prospective English majors and other interested students amassed in the Rehm Library for a poetry reading by special guest, Adrian Matejka. Matejka was welcomed as the last of this semester’s Working Writer Series speakers, of which there were five (with plans to introduce more in the coming  spring semester). Associate professor of English Oliver de la Paz provided a lofty introduction on the Indianapolis poet and writer, briefing students on many of Matejka’s new publications and recent accomplishments. He cited some of Matejka’s poetic works, many of which have been selected for national awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award. Among those listed, some of Matejka’s most favored collections include, “The Big Smoke,” which hinges on the subject of  Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion in the world, and “Map to the Stars,” which evaluates the mix of racial and poverty-related tensions in the Reagan Era. In the words of de la Paz, “Matejka’s poems beckon and blossom, reaching deep into personal histories and historic archives for universal illumination. [His work] has offered a meditation on history and the self’s ability to survive, examining the interstitial connections between race, poverty, fatherhood, and culture.” During his visit to the College of the Holy Cross, Matejka read a sample of poems from his newest collection, “Somebody Else Sold the World,” and alluded to his forthcoming graphic novel, “Last on His Feet.” 

Throughout the presentation, Matejka sampled a number of uniquely divergent, yet interrelated poems on the subjects of childhood, impoverishment, and war. He began his session with a reading from his newly released collection, a poem about the Vietnam War Memorial titled “Facing It.” Throughout his recitation, it became manifest to the audience of attending students that Matejka’s poems relate very personally to his own experiences, having been the son and nephew of Vietnam veterans himself. As he spoke each line of poetry, intoning up and down and drawing out syllables for emphasis, Matejka’s reading provided for a highly pleasing auditory experience. Following this first reading, he continued to read back a number of other poetry samples to students and onlooking staff.

Following his reading, Matejka opened up the floor for questions from student attendees. English major Sophie Cassarino ‘24 was one of the first to speak, broaching the subject of how to best approach writing about traumatic experiences and revisiting trauma in writing. Matejka, ostensibly pleased by her question, responded by saying that he finds it especially useful to write about the things that make him feel uncomfortable during the writing process: “If it makes me feel this way, maybe there’s something useful in it to help someone else.” Writing about trauma allows Matejka to “support others who feel unable to support themselves; those who are maybe unable to attend protests and displays of social activism due to health reasons.” In Matejka’s view, the most poignant type of writing is the type which has not yet been brought to written form. He says he feels a zealous inclination to “write about the poems I couldn’t find but wanted to read,” a guiding principle that has inspired a lot of Matejka’s own poetry.

In a second question, one student inquired into how Matejka’s love for music translates into his writing. Matejka, who is an avid listener of music megastars such as Prince and Fleetwood Mac, said that he often actively tries to incorporate music into his poems. Using sonetic structures that alter the way in which his poems are read aloud, such as enjambment and other sounds, Matejka tries “to make the music as loud as the point of the poem.” He also attested that “enjambment and sounds propel the poem just as much as the meaning does,” depending on where you choose to break up one line of poetry into the next. 

Be on the watch for future Working Writer Series events beginning next semester! All students, English and non-English majors alike, are always welcome to attend.

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