Author Q&A with Matt Mason

Matt Mason is the Nebraska State Poet and has run poetry workshops in Botswana, Romania, Nepal, and Belarus for the U.S. State Department. His poetry has appeared in The New York Times and he has received a Pushcart Prize as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Nebraska Arts Council. In this Q&A, Matt shares a little about how he got started teaching workshops, the inspiration behind two of his latest poems, and advice for aspiring writers…

Author Q&A with Nebraska State Poet, Matt Mason

by Christine Nessler

September 20, 2023

Matt Mason has run poetry workshops in Botswana, Romania, Nepal, and Belarus for the U.S. State Department and his poetry has appeared in The New York Times. Matt is the Nebraska State Poet and has received a Pushcart Prize as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Nebraska Arts Council. His work can be found on NPR’s Morning Edition, in American Life in Poetry, and in several hundred other publications. Mason’s fifth book, Rock Stars, was released by Button Poetry, September, 2023. His website is: 

Mason’s poems, Why We Cry and Poem in Celebration of My Death, are featured in Issue #12 of The Good Life Review.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m out here working to make my living as a poet. There’s no good roadmap for this, so wish me luck.

How did you start teaching poetry workshops? What topics do you cover in your international poetry workshops?

I started when I moved back to Omaha after grad school at a time when there didn’t seem to be many people with advanced degrees in poetry. Places like the Bookworm Bookstore and Omaha Public Libraries took notice of what I was doing in open mics and in events I ran and they brought me in for some events and also recommended me to schools.

The Embassy programs dealt with writing poems using a variety of writing prompts and also with working with the poets on performance, as the programs all ended with either a poetry slam or another kind of public reading. It was great to talk with students about their own experiences with poetry in their countries and I learned about how it’s taught as well as what they wanted from poetry. Some of the programs also had a focus on advocacy and community involvement to help start events and support other writers after the program ended.

What has been the most rewarding part of teaching poetry workshops?

I love seeing what people come up with, how a room of 20 people can write such different poems from the same writing prompt. And seeing when someone comes up with something magic, something inspired, is amazing.

Tell us about the inspiration for Poem in Celebration of My Death?

Poem in Celebration of My Death came from a Zoom workshop I taught during the pandemic. The prompt asked everyone to look around them, and I was in my basement with Frank right outside the window and the poem just spilled from there.

Why We Cry hits close to home for parents with adult children. How has being a parent influenced your writing?

Being a parent has been a huge influence on my writing. I write about the things around me and, when you’re a parent, those kids make up a huge part of what’s around you. My second book, The Baby That Ate Cincinnati, is entirely poems about being a parent and I didn’t stop once that book came together.

How does poetry help you face the most challenging aspects of life? Or help you appreciate the most beautiful?

I write poetry to help me figure out the world. Every day, there’s a lot in my head and a lot in my heart but not a lot of communication between the two. What drew me to poetry and keeps me there is that it creates communication between my head and heart, it helps me figure things out in myself and in the world.

How do you incorporate writing into your daily life?

I make myself start at least one new poem each week, with a Monday night deadline (that started with a class I took over 25 years ago where we had to turn in a poem every Monday). That means I am always looking for something to write about, searching for something that might be a poem.

What is your favorite style of poetry and why?

That’s a hard one. I mostly write in free verse but I love sestinas and villanelles, too. So if you force me to pick one, I probably have to say “free verse” since I’m more likely to explore an idea that way, but I love sestinas and I love when a villanelle comes together.

What words of advice do you offer your workshop students?

When a student wants to be a better poet, I tell them the two best things they can do are:

1. Write a lot.

2. Read a lot.

If you do just these two things, you will get better. Even if you spend months writing bad poems, each bad poem you write is an experiment, a lesson, and you’re a better writer afterward. The only way you don’t improve is if you don’t write and you don’t read other people’s poems.

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”

I think of living with peace in your heart, living a life with integrity and value, truth and beauty.

Thank you, Matt, for participating in this Q&A and for your continued support of our mission and vision. We’re grateful to you for allowing us to share your poems with our readers!

And coming soon!… Another “Amazing” poem in Issue #13!!

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