Studio Clips: Meet State Poet Matt Mason

Creative Prompt

Writing Prompt: Poem as Time Capsule

Step 1.

We are living in a unique time. Even if you’re still going to work, you don’t eat in restaurants anyway, are doing “regular” things, everyone around you is trying to figure out what their life is. Especially the Sports reporters.

What I’d like you to do is spend some time thinking about the details of these past 3 weeks. What is different and noteworthy. Things like in the poems I just read where I mention people making music on balconies, I want you to spend some time in silence. If you’re driving, turn off the radio. If you’re walking, don’t listen to a podcast. Riding an exercise bike? Don’t watch Disney+. Be in silence and think about the details of your day, your week, your month.

Then write. Even if all you’re doing is recording small details, write. Maybe a poem, maybe a story, maybe a list. How are meals different? Is time different in your day? Do you know what day it is? How is your work or school different?

In all these details, fill in, also, what are you grateful for? What and who are you afraid for? What is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen in your house or on your street? Have you had moments of panic?

Maybe you’ll come up with something amazing and surprising. And if you don’t, go to…

Step 2.

Take what you’ve written and put it all in a Google Calendar (or whatever you use) event for 10 years from right now. Part of writing that keeps me at it is that it’s a time capsule. Even my first poems, though I’d be horrified now to see them in print anywhere other than my private folder, take me back to those times, put me back there.

And that’s what this can do. Tell Future You to read what you wrote and write a poem on it. You will then write the best poem you’ve ever written. Track me down and send it to me.

Artist Bio

About State Poet Matt Mason

Matt Mason is the Nebraska State Poet and Executive Director of the Nebraska Writers Collective. He runs poetry programming for the State Department, working in Nepal, Romania, Botswana and Belarus. Mason is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize for his poem “Notes For My Daughter Against Chasing Storms” and his work can be found in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. The author of Things We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (The Backwaters Press, 2006) and The Baby That Ate Cincinnati (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013), Matt is based out of Omaha with his wife, the poet Sarah McKinstry-Brown, and daughters Sophia and Lucia.


Describe your ideal studio or workplace.

I have learned to make due with almost any space. I have written poems at home, in fast food restaurants, with a baby in my arms as I pace the room to get her to sleep. But ideal? Maybe a beach. Or Disneyland. I’d definitely take Disneyland. Physical location doesn’t tend to be a problem for me, it’s the head space. I need a time where I don’t have my head crowded with tasks, worries, etc. piled up.

Describe your makeshift studio or workplace in a time of social distancing or isolation.

That would be my basement/garage, unless I’m awake well before everyone else. In that case, the couch in our front room, with the birds and the wind chime on our front porch singing.

How has sharing your work with co-creatives or others shifted?

I feel I’ve missed a lot due to canceled readings and other events. I had a lot on my calendar which of course had to go away, and I look forward to being able to go out again, hear poets read. That said, it’s good to see how much has stepped up online, with good, creative work like kitchen concerts and Zoom events happening.

What is your favorite non-art oriented activity that inspires you?

Riding my bike. It’s good to get outside to clear my head, get away from media, and also get some exercise.

How has working in a socially distant environment affected your work?

My way of writing poetry has always been slight socially distant anyway, so it’s worked okay. The interesting part for me is, as State Poet, asking myself if this brings more responsibility to share what I’m working on in a time like this. I’ve been putting more poems than normal on social media with that in mind. Which of course stresses me some, as there are few things more dangerous than sharing new work which, in a week, I might look back on and have a completely different opinion on!

What is your favorite go-to snack after long hours working on you artistic practice?

As we’re not getting out to the grocery store much right now, that’d be whatever is available. Today it was a granola bar. Other days it might be baked cauliflower. I’m thinking of trying a churro recipe later today, so, if successful, that could be it.

What are one or two books that resonate with you and/or your practice?

Almost anything works for me, books and literary magazines, because when I am reading, it keeps my mind working on poetry and ideas. Among my favorites, I’d list the journals Sugar House Review and Plainsongs and poets like John Keats, Denise Duhamel, Ron Koertge, and Patricia Smith.

Who are one or two artists that inspire you?

Ted Kooser is an inspiration for me due to his discipline, his body of work, and just how he puts a poem together which makes sense on the surface but can have so much more going on underneath. He’s not that interested in getting in front of audiences, he loves the process and the work of it and is so talented at finding the right metaphor. The goal for my poetic life is to write a poem half as good as his “After Years.”