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Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka was born into a military family in Nuremburg, Germany, in 1971, and he grew up in California and Indiana. He received a BA from Indiana University in 1995 and an MFA from Southern Illinois University–Carbondale in 2001.

He is the author of Map to the Stars (Penguin, 2017); The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013), which won the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; Mixology (Penguin, 2009), which was a winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series; and The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003), which received the 2002 New York/New England Book Award.

Matejka’s poetry is known for its inventive, often multidisciplinary exploration of identity and cultural history. Rodney Jones writes, "Adrian Matejka plays the language like a horn, with a cool inventiveness and bravura phrasing, yet his poems are as notable for their humanity as their flourishes and riffs at the borders of expression. His singular gift is to write outside the usual habits of communication and yet to deliver again and again the inside story, the testament of a life."

In an interview with Barely South Review, he cites the poet Yusef Komunyakaa as an influence: “He was like an emcee—or maybe more appropriately, a jazz soloist. When I heard him read, I knew I wanted to write poems.”

Matejka is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council, the Lannan Foundation, and United States Artists, among others. In 2018, he was appointed state poet laureate of Indiana. In 2019, Matejka received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship and a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently teaches creative writing at Indiana University. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.


Bibliography

Map to the Stars (Penguin, 2017)
The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013)
Mixology (Penguin, 2009)
The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003)

By This Poet

11

& Later,

—after “Trumpet,” Jean-Michel Basquiat


the broken sprawl & crawl
of Basquiat’s paints, the thin cleft

          of villainous pigments wrapping 

each frame like the syntax
          in somebody else’s relaxed

explanation of lateness: what had
          happened was.
Below blackened

crowns, below words crossed out
to remind of what is underneath:

          potholes, ashy elbows, & breath

that, in the cold, comes out in red light

& complaint shapes— 3 lines
          from the horn’s mouth
in the habit of tardy remunerations.

All of that 3-triggered agitation,

all that angry-fingered fruition   

like Indianapolis’s 3-skyscrapered smile
when the sun goes down & even

the colors themselves start talking

          in the same suspicious idiom
          as a brass instrument—

thin throat like a fist,

          flat declinations of pastors
& teachers at Christmas in the inner city.

Shoulders back & heads up when
playing in holiday choir of hungry

          paints, chins covered
in red scribbles in all of the songs.

Strange Celestial Roads

There’s a father sleeping it off in every master bedroom 
     of the cul-de-sac the morning after, so Saturday
morning is a snooze. The moon is still out, eyeballing
     the quiet street like Sun Ra did his Arkestra. Somebody
has to be a father figure for all of those musical notes.
     No school busses to huff after, no mothers yelling
their children onward. The only weekend noise is us,
     kicking rocks—so bored we can’t even hear each other—
on a celestial swirl of asphalt that will be a playground
     one day. We stand, right feet extended in unison like foos
men, rock after rock arcing at sorry angles toward
     the open bar that hopes to dangle four swings. Some
rocks go through, some miss as we balance on concrete
    meant to backstop hop scotch & echo knock knock jokes.
Not somebody’s father, finally up & at ‘em, yelling,
    You got to be kidding me, after he opens the property tax
bill. Maybe these bars were placed here for some other,
    future kids to be dragged away from by big ears
or red necks toward the unavoidable arguments, fist-to-face
     noises & the bleating saxophones that come after. 

Central Avenue Beach

 

—Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2016

 

1.

Just off of Highway 12, Sandburg’s signature
of time & eternity: the muggy marshes

& thick forests of the mind, sand that sings
its memory of glaciers & the glaciers before

them. 14,000 years of them. After
the Potawatomi got marched away & before

the steel makers’ smokestacks & the abandoned
Bailly Nuclear Plant cupped this lakeshore

like hands around a beach party’s last
dry match: Lake Michigan’s wide-brimmed

posture as close to an ocean as the scrub
brush, gulls, & rocks around here will get.  

 

2.

Every town around here
has a Central Avenue, complete
with blustery flags & home-
cooked meals. Blank storefronts
& churches next to other churches—
lake light filtering through
their stained glass windows
most sunny afternoons after 3pm.
Steeples, one after another,
like the Great Lakes’ waves
trying to blink constant sand
out of wet eyes. & at night, all  
of the avenue lights up. No street
lights, but stars & moon blinking
in agitated water while the industrial
lights on the fringes dim like blank
faces traced in constellations.

 

3.

Listen to the Sand
     Hill Cranes folding
into the dim fringes

of themselves
     like prayer hands.
Listen to the yellow

warblers clustered
     up in the middle
of knotted branches

like a hungry chorus
     in these perfectly
paused trees. Even

at night, the birds
     grab sand-swirled air
with nonchalant wings.

 

4.

In the day or at night, central is centrālis in Latin & means exactly
what the warblers, trees, & restless dunes think it means: ruffles
of sand between the angry human fist & the equally angry
human face of industry, deregulations & pollutants as uninvited
as the sea lamprey wiggling through the locks & canals.

 

5.

After the canals & their creaking locks
     & the oxidized ships & their bleary horns,

the sun edges the blue between cuffed waves
     & unrepentant shore. After gravity’s

insoluble gears pull all of this water away
     from Central Avenue & back to the center

& the fish swim away from shore through
     the gills of noises & sediment in that sideways

way fish do. In a lake this big, it’s possible
     to swim in circles all day & get no further

from the moon than this parade of whitecaps
     on the edges of the dunes. The same

frustrated tendencies of circle, these waves.
     The same cornered ingenuity, this great lake.

These dunes, always on the mainline’s wet
     cusp—polished, brocaded & fabulous.