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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 with his wife, the poet Stacey Lynn Brown, 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

Mural with HUD Housing & School Bus (1980)


When 213b finally opens in a crack of yellow linoleum, 
Garrett comes out with the left side of his afro as flat 
as the tire that used to be on his mom’s car & the stuck 
snick of the cheap door locking behind him sounds exactly 
like someone trying to light a smoke with an empty lighter. 
Carriage House East, where menthols cough like a window
slamming shut & outside that window, somebody’s radio 
is already popping static. What’s left of the moon is popping 
white on blue. That’s when we stamp past the squat HUD 
brick toward school in the dark: shadow of the green trash 
can gang signed with misspellings, a mimeograph of Mickey 
Mouse flipping Iran the bird in the landlord’s lit window. 
We made the same middle-finger motion to the school bus 
before ignoring our bus stop & kept walking neighborhood- 
style—right hands skimming from chest down to waist 
then behind the back like a bad breast-stroker cupping air. 
Cue the sirens snagging the matted air like a cheap pick. 
Cue the smoker’s cough of early-morning walks to school. 
We strutted a backward lean like every one of the unconcerned 
streetlamps alternating between our side of the street 
& over there—in front of the fenced-in porches missing slats 
like teeth in a punched smile where Garrett’s cousin leaned 
against the side of one of the front buildings. She put 
two-fingered guns to her temples when she saw us: red patch 
of smoker’s skin around her mouth like a raw sun rising. 

& 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.