July 28, 2020
“Poetry in Our Times: Protest and Pandemic” Conversation with Adrian Matejka

During the month of July, Indiana's Poet Laureate Matthew Graham will explore the themes of protest and pandemic with Hoosier poets. This week, he highlights Adrian Matejka's poem, "Affirmative Action."

Poetry in Our Times: Protest and Pandemic
Curated by Matthew Graham

This is not a time to be silent, especially for writers. If COVID-19 opened the door to a national awareness of long entrenched and unacknowledged social and racial indignities and injustices, the murder of George Floyd blew that door off its hinges. As State Poet Laureate, during the month of July, I’ll be posting poems by Indiana writers addressing many of the issues that have come to light in the last four months. I hope these poems will begin or continue important conversations we need to be having.

For the final post in the series, I’m highlighting Adrian Matejka’s poem “Affirmative Action” from his collection Mixology

Here’s what he has to say about his poem: 

“I wrote this poem right after yet another court decision diminishing affirmative action in which Clarence Thomas voted against the same mechanisms that got him into college, then law school, then miraculously into the same Supreme Court seat previously held by the Court’s first Black justice Thurgood Marshall. The poem is meant to be an indictment both of Black people like Thomas who cozy up to the system and of the ineptitude of the system itself. As if allowing a few more Black and brown citizens into universities will somehow offset the institutional racism they contend with every single day.”

Adrian Matejka is the author of four collections of poems including The Big Smoke(Penguin, 2013) and Map to the Stars (Penguin, 2017). His new collection Somebody Else Sold the World is forthcoming from Penguin in 2021, and his first graphic novel, Last On His Feet, is forthcoming from Liveright in 2022.


Affirmative Action

I’m caught in a bouquet of skin
& hair. Slaves, up & down my blood
like a boot in mud. A constellation
of almost haves and never knews

pointing North. That’s why
my childhood is a handful of oceans
& warped wood, shaken like dice.
Hopscotch lips, double ply knees.

On the one hand, sand & spit.
On the other, a coffle of spiders eating
under a split fist moon. Free means
artifice. Enough of this. Being free

means standing over a stanchion
of jive, blackface or otherwise.

—from Mixology (Penguin, 2009)


Views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of Indiana Humanities.

Posted In: Poetry

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