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About this poet

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 was the recipient of a 2019 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)

Mail-Order Planets

In 1981, Eris’s spacious face hadn’t been discovered
yet, my mother hadn’t taken a day off from Fort Ben
yet, & Pluto was still a planet. One of nine celestial
bodies snapped into drummed orbits around the Sun
like the orthodontic rubber bands no one in Carriage House
had. I hid my gaps by not smiling, imagining an astronaut
future as sharp & fixed as a dentist’s smile—236 miles
above Earth where up & down are instructions instead
of directions. Behind a mirrored visor, the singing inside
my American-flagged extravehicular mobility unit
so robust it could keep a black boy from Indiana breathing
in outer space. We didn’t have any solar system models
at PS113, so I had to get my own. I dove into dumpsters
searching for cans & bottles under the OJ cartons & maggots
fat in swallows of juice. I dug through frozen dinner boxes
& apple cores shaped like moldy infinities, then foraged
the iced-out underpass—M&MKim painted in moon-
eyed red, then X-ed out with black paint by the time
the frost went away. I hunted the ice- & tire-clogged creek
where I would have spun the bottle with Cynthia
from science class if I wasn’t chicken. The A&P paid
by the pound & I dragged sacks stuffed with sand-filled
Schlitz & Tab cans around back where the braceface
sweating on the scale knew my game & paid me anyway.
Three months of collecting & I had enough money
to order our system from the black of a Star Trek comic—
all nine planets in adjustable orbits & Earth’s majesty
anchoring the third lane. The kid in the ad was as excited
as I was—waiting for the mailman every day after mailing
five wrinkled bills—but the solar system never came.

From Map to the Stars by Adrian Matejka, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Adrian Matejka.

From Map to the Stars by Adrian Matejka, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Adrian Matejka.

Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka is the author of The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013), which was nominated for both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana. 

by this poet

poem

If there was ever a chance to go to outer space,
     it wasn’t here & it wasn’t for me, as off balance
on this distant planet as a buster getting a mouthful
     of knuckles. If there was a possibility of making it
out of this heliosphere, there never really was.
     Four eyes

poem

 

—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.

poem

—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

2