Adrian Matejka was born in Nuremberg, Germany and grew up in California and Indiana. He earned his BA from Indiana University and an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The poet Aaron Belz wrote that, “Matters of race and identity, figured against the ever-shifting backdrop of media culture, are of central importance to Matejka.” Matejka’s poems make use of musicality, pop culture references, and unexpected combinations of images and phrases.
Polyester is made from polyethylene & catches fire easily
like wings near a thrift store sun. Polyethylene, used in shampoo
bottles, gun cases, & those grocery sacks skidding like upended
stars across the parking lot. There are more kinds of stars
in this universe than salt granules on drive-thru fries.
– from Map to the Stars
Matejka’s third and latest collection of poems, The Big Smoke, focuses on the life of the first African American world boxing champion, Jack Johnson. The collection was awarded the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. In an interview for the National Book Award, Matejka said:
I thought about the finality of boxing and its kinetics while I was generating the poems. I tried to use line breaks and other poetic devices like similes to emulate the cadences of fighting. In fact, one of the reasons the sonnet shape appears so often in the book is that the 14-line burst with a volta seems most like the distillation of energy in a boxing round to me. But I think the direct connection between the rhythms of boxing and the lineation of the poems comes from Johnson himself.
There is a wonderful recording of Johnson narrating part of his 1910 fight with Jim Jeffries. As Johnson describes the action, his cadences emulate the fight action in a way that makes him sound like a ring announcer. I used the recording as one of the primary sources for Johnson’s ‘voice’ in the book.
Much of Matejka’s work is marked by musical influences. The Devil’s Garden, Matejka’s debut collection, is notably influenced by jazz and blues, with allusions to Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, while his set of poems titled ‘Gymnopédies’ are named after the piano compositions by French composer and pianist Erik Satie.
This sunlight on snow.
of covered stumps & brush –
stop for it.
[ . . . ]
Stop & shiver in it: the ring
of snow inside gloves,
the cusp of red forehead
like a sun just waiting to top
the hill. Every ill-built
snowball waiting to be thrown,
every bell-shaped angel
stamped over the brown leaves.
–from Gymopédies No. 3
Matejka is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lannan Foundation, and he was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award for Mixology. He teaches creative writing at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Map to the Stars, Penguin Books, New York, 2017
The Big Smoke, Penguin Books, New York, 2013
Mixology, Penguin Books, New York, 2009
The Devil’s Garden, Alice James Books, Farmington, Maine, 2003
‘End of Side A’ read by Adrian Matejka, PoetryFoundation.org.
‘Gymnopédies No. 2’ read by Adrian Matejka, PoetryFoundation.org.
‘Map to the Stars’ read by Adrian Matejka, PoetryFoundation.org.
‘Filet of Sounds’ Poetry magazine podcast.
‘Poetry Off the Shelf: National Book Award in Poetry’, PoetryFoundation.org.
‘Your Other Heart’, Poetry magazine podcast.
‘Certain Postures: A Conversation with Adrian Matejka’, PEN America.
Review of The Big Smoke, The Rumpus.
Review of Adrian Metjka’s The Big Smoke, The Journal Mag.
Interview with Adrian Matejka, National Book Foundation.
Review of Mixolgy, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.