Adrian Matejka Queries Potential and Limits of Persona in Season’s Last Poetry Brown Bag


It starts with an image — a sketch, a fragment or a scribble. Then, equipped with a full notebook brimming with snatches of ideas that move him, Adrian Matejka returns to his pages to go “hunting” for the poems within.

In Matejka’s workshop, “With a Voice Like That You Should Be on the Radio,” the Week Nine Chautauqua Writers’ Center poet-in-residence leads participants on a generative search for “surprising” points of view through an exploration of linguistic components.

The award-winning author of four poetry collections, including his National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Big Smoke, on which he presented at Chautauqua Institution in 2016, Matejka will offer the season’s final poetry Brown Bag lecture, “You Can Be Whoever You Want to Be (Almost): Persona Poetry and Its Possibilities,” at 12:15 p.m. today on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. 

“Persona poems are a wonderful opportunity to explore politics and points of view we might not ordinarily be able to, but it also presents some ethical challenges related to appropriation and privilege,” Matejka said. “I’ll be talking about some of the things we can do to be successful artistically in persona.”

Born to a military family in Nuremberg, Germany, Matejka grew up in California and Indiana. After living away from Indiana for 20 years, he recently moved back to his home state — and to the realization that “place is a central part of the creation of the self.”

“I used to think there wasn’t much of a relationship between space and place, beyond the physical connection in which the poems are actually being composed,” Matejka said. “We can’t be who we are — on the page or off — without considering the geography around us.”

In 2018, Matejka was appointed the sixth poet laureate of Indiana, a role he described as “such a joy” and a position with poetry advocacy at its core. During his two-year tenure, Matejka and his team plan to introduce a monthly workshop series and a public archive of Indiana poetry.

“I’ve been working hard to bring the art to communities across the state, sometimes in places poetry isn’t common,” he said. “Poetry is our oldest, greatest civic art, but it’s not always a major presence in contemporary America. I’ve been trying to change that in the small ways I can as Indiana’s poet laureate.”

In a week focused on the intersections of race and culture, Matejka’s jazz-infused poems are at home next to lectures from world-renowned trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, as well as performances from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. His acclaimed debut, The Devil’s Garden, is an autobiography rhythmically akin to jazz and the blues, with allusions to Miles Davis and Billie Holiday. Mixology interrogates race, identity and politics while, with the cosmically themed Map to the Stars, the poet finds influences in everything from “Star Trek” to the jazz composer Sun Ra.   

“Not being glib in any way, but I am inspired by almost everything in one way or another,” Matejka said. “The world is full of poetry if we’re open to it, and I try to stay open.”

Tags : “With a Voice Like That You Should Be on the Radio”“You Can Be Whoever You Want to Be (Almost): Persona Poetry and Its Possibilities”Brown Bag lectureliterary artsLiterary Arts Center at Alumni Hallpoet-in-residenceThe Artsweek nineWriters’ Center

The author Amy Guay

Hailing from coastal Sarasota, Florida, and Nantucket, Massachusetts, Amy Guay is excited to live near yet another significant body of water while she spends her summer as the Daily’s literary arts reporter. A fresh Georgetown University graduate, Amy has an extensive background in absorbing free or discounted art and then writing about it. Her favorite book is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.