Adrian Matejka


Map to the Stars

Map to the StarsPengiun Books ,128 Pages, 5-1/2 x 8-7/16, ISBN 9780143130574, $18.00
Purchase: Penguin / Your local bookstore (Indiebound)

From the publisher: Map to the Stars, the fourth poetry collection from National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist Adrian Matejka, navigates the tensions between race, geography, and poverty in America during the Reagan Era. In the time of space shuttles and the Strategic Defense Initiative, outer space is the only place equality seems possible, even as the stars serve to both guide and obscure the earthly complexities of masculinity and migration. In Matejka’s poems, hope is the link between the convoluted realities of being poor and the inspiring possibilities of transcendence and escape—whether it comes from Star Trek, the dream of being one of the first black astronauts, or Sun Ra’s cosmic jazz.

Praise & Reviews

"In this seismic and sonic new Matejka collection Richard Pryor is an Indiana sun god and a Black boy waits impatiently for the solar system to alight inside his mailbox. Rich and ekphrastic, this  journey of boy-to-man ascendance cradles the might and memoir of motherships and other two-legged planets that lift our chins to starlight then break us in two."

—Nikky Finney

"Fueled by powdered milk, boom box tracks and Star Trek reruns, A Map of the Stars charts a poetic bildungsroman as well as a redemptive journey through three decades of popular music searching for “a little city of gleaming/ gallantry.” These are mouth-watering poems full of “tough-guy shufflebucks” and motherships “gorgeous as comets,” a “vernacular hubbub” that hurtles through our “violently Technicolor heliosphere”—and beyond. For a rocket-powered poet like Adrian Matejka, where else to aim but the stars?

— Campbell McGrath

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The Big Smoke

The Big Smoke

Winner of the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

Finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

Finalist for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry

Penguin Books (May 2013), 128 Pages, 5-1/2 x 8-7/16, ISBN 9780143123729, $18.00

Purchase: Your local bookstore (Indiebound) / Penguin

From the publisher: A finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in Poetry—a collection that examines the myth and history of the prizefighter Jack Johnson.  The legendary Jack Johnson (1878–1946) was a true American creation. The child of emancipated slaves, he overcame the violent segregationism of Jim Crow, challenging white boxers—and white America—to become the first African-American heavyweight world champion. The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka’s third work of poetry, follows the fighter’s journey from poverty to the most coveted title in sports through the multi-layered voices of Johnson and the white women he brazenly loved. Matejka’s book is part historic reclamation and part interrogation of Johnson’s complicated legacy, one that often misremembers the magnetic man behind the myth.

Praise & Reviews

“In this revelatory work, Adrian Matejka makes a chamber opera out of the highly mythologized and often deeply misunderstood life of Jack Johnson. Through the virtuosic interplay of voices, Matejka forces us to interrogate our own complicity in making histories that focus on the prize fights and the flashy cars while ignoring (and perhaps abetting) the intimate struggles and losses, the cruelties occurring in the places we call home, that make the rifts in our lives and our country deepen. This is a startlingly human book whose gorgeous language never keeps us from the harder truths and myths that make and unmake all of us.”

—Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of Apocalyptic Swing

“Just as we finally get a grip on the volatile Jack Johnson, Adrian Matejka, in his collection of poems, The Big Smoke, gives us a man wrestling with myth. He assays a figure bigger than life, and we see a legend shaped by American history—heroic and antiheroic—that is humanized by moments of poetic exhilaration as well as downfall. This poet’s Jack Johnson is made of sweat, blood, and vulnerability. Unadorned and honed, the poems in The Big Smoke are seasoned with easeful authority but jaunty as the Eagle Rock.”

—Yusef Komunyakaa, author of The Chameleon Couch

Other reviews of The Big Smoke.


MixologySelected for the 2008 National Poetry Series by Kevin Young

Penguin Books (May 2009), 96 Pages, 5-1/2 x 8-7/16 inches, ISBN 9780143115830, $18.00

Purchase: Your local bookstore (Indiebound) / Penguin

From the Publisher: The poems in Adrian Matejka’s second collection, Mixology, shapeshift through the myriad meanings of “mixing” to explore and explode ideas of race, skin politics, appropriation, and cultural identity. Whether the focus of the individual poems is musical, digital, or historical, the otherness implicit in being of more than one racial background guides Matejka’s work to the inevitable conclusion that all things-no matter how disparate-are parts of the whole.

Praise & Reviews

"Adrian Matejka provides a profound and powerful cocktail of personal history, hip hop elegy, and inventive language, measuring a clash of emotions and cultures with fat bass lines and sharp wit. A post-soul tour de force that places pop culture in a blender.”

— Kevin Young, 2008 National Poetry Series judge

"Adrian Matejka sings the body politic electric, eclectic, euphoric. Agile as Olympic gymnasts, these smart, tight lyrics are bursting with young hunger, frisky identity mashups, and tasty sonics. Matejka's particular mix of surge and control, vigor and craft is awesome, dizzying. His elegies are tender manifestos. Each poem's spits sparks, a pint sized power station. Mixology unleashes a genie that cannot EVER be stuffed back into his bottle. America: welcome to your new Mixologist Laureate."

— Amy Gerstler

"'I got me two songs instead/of eyes - all swollen and blacked/out like the day after a lost fight.' I read a line like that and know this poet is a street-talking surrealist, someone down-home and intergalactic. He weaves the likes of Fela Kuti and Wassily Kandinsky, Allen Iverson and Bob Kaufman, into poems of meditation and mischief. Here the pathos and charm of good old-fashioned storytelling is wedded to the associative freedoms of music and collage. Heady, funky, motley: this Adrian Matejka is truly a poet of the new century."
— Terrance Hayes

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The Devil's Garden

Devils Garden

Alice James Books (October 2003), 80 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, ISBN-10: 1882295412 / ISBN-13: 978-1882295418, $13.95

Purchase: Your local bookstore (Indiebound) | Alice James Books

Praise & Reviews

The Devil’s Garden meets at the crossroads of risky possibility—real and magical. With jazz burning in the engine, each curve in Adrian Matejka’s stunning imagination is taken with hard-earned, skillful grace. Get ready to travel in the mind and the body.”
—Yusef Komunyakaa

“Reading Adrian Matejka’s amazing debut, I was left with the feeling that American Poetry was at last beginning to catch up with early 21st century American life. He has written the first serious songs from a world that’s about to make itself felt and known.”
—Cornelius Eady

“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.”
—Rodney Jones

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