IU professor named Poet Laureate of Indiana


Adrian Matejka is a graduate of Pike High School in Indianapolis, Indiana University Bloomington, and the MFA program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. He is the Ruth Lilly Professor / Poet-in-Residence at Indiana University. Photo courtesy of Stephen Sproull Buy Photos

After writing four books of poetry and teaching ENG-L 210, The Poetics of Rap, for five years, professor Adrian Matejka began his two-year term as Poet Laureate of Indiana on January 1, 2018. 

The Poet Laureate of Indiana represents the state and the art of poetry by pursuing initiatives and programming to advance the art form. He will succeed current poet laureate Shari Wagner.

“I never expected to have a shot at the position because of all of the amazing poets and citizens in our state,” Matejka said. “I’m still a little star eyed about the whole thing.”

Metajka was born in Nuremberg, Germany, before moving to California and Indiana in his childhood. He is a graduate of IU, where he currently teaches in the MFA program. 

His third poetry collection, “The Big Smoke,” was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist. 

“Poetry is the greatest art form of them all,” Matejka said. “For many of us, poetry is so vital, and it is all around us.”

Before being announced as the next poet laureate, the Indiana Arts Commission put out a statewide call for nominations. After a committee vetted potential nominees, Matejka was one of three candidates who advanced. 

After submitting additional materials and completing an interview, Matejka received word he had earned the position on Dec. 11.

“I hope that we can figure out new ways to make our University and local communities aware of the arts opportunities around us,” Matejka said. 

Between the University, poetry slams and other groups, such as the Writers Guild of Bloomington, local arts programming is second to none, Matejka said.

“We’re very fortunate at IU to have an incredibly robust literary and arts community,” Matejka said. “The literary events we host off campus are often more well attended than the ones on campus.”

Poetry is so popular because it’s an inherently empathetic experience, said Dan Sullivan, candidate in the MFA Creative Writing program.

“Poetry is a frontier that walks a balance between homage and future,” Sullivan said. “It’s an act of careful attention to the past, careful attention to the present moment, and it’s got to nod toward tomorrow.”

Matejka first taught The Poetics of Rap in fall 2012 for English majors. The class discusses a range of emcees from different time periods, such as Jean Grae, Notorious B.I.G. and Kendrick Lamar. 

When Matejka first taught the class, students wrote 16-bar rap lyrics or short poems to perform in front of the class instead of a final.

“Rap is the most popular form of poetry we have,” Matejka said. “We trace the evolution of rap music from the late 1960s to the present while studying the sophisticated ways emcees use rhyme, metaphor, simile and the rest.”

Some of the most exciting and innovative advances in language experimentation have been birthed from hip-hop, Sullivan said.

“So much of what we study in math as scholars in regards to poetics has developed for the most part naturally and instinctually in the music of hip-hop,” Sullivan said. “It’s a testament more of what hip-hop has to teach us.”

Looking forward, raising community awareness of local arts opportunities is important, Matejka said.

“Right now, more than ever, we need art to help remind us of the good in the world,” Matejka said. “My main goal is to find new ways to share poems with the citizens of Indiana in hopes that more of our neighbors will understand just how moving poetry can be.”

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