HOLDREGE — As the Nebraska state poet, Matt Mason can do just about anything he wants and call it good.
“There’s no official duties of the position,” he said. “You present a program that you’re hoping to do in your five years as the state poet and then it’s up to you to make it happen.”
As part of his goal, Mason hopes to present a public reading in all 93 counties of the state.
“I can do about 19 a year and hit my goal,” he said. “I have contacts all over the state. And if I don’t have contacts for a particular place, Nebraska Humanities, the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Library Commission have all said they will help me.”
He tries to include a local poet at his presentations.
As part of that goal, Mason will present an evening of poetry at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at The Tassel Center for the Performing Arts in Holdrege.
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In addition to serving as the state poet, Mason leads the Nebraska Writers Collective and coordinates the Louder Than a Bomb: Great Plains Youth Poetry Festival. Mason is the author of “Things We Don’t Know We Don’t Know,” published by The Backwaters Press in 2006, and “The Baby That Ate Cincinnati,” published by the Stephen F. Austin University Press in 2013.
Based in Omaha, Mason understands the value of a title.
“More people come out when a ‘state poet’ is reading rather than some random poet from Omaha,” he said. “I’ve been to so many communities where there are folks writing poetry — and their neighbors don’t know it. Anything I can do to get them a little more noticed is worth doing.”
Mason hung a map of Nebraska on his refrigerator at home and marked the locations where he has read throughout the state. The title of state poet gives him — and the art form — a sense of credibility.
“It makes me kind of an official representative of poetry for Nebraska, which is fun inside the state and outside of Nebraska,” he said. “I’ve done readings in other places, too. It’s an honor and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I love doing readings and talking poetry with people.”
With all of his administrative duties, Mason still tries to find time to write.
“Running the Nebraska Writers Collective nonprofit is my job,” he noted. “It’s work I love doing, but it’s a lot of work. Doing that and being a dad and doing state poet work can take time away from writing. But so far it’s been working OK. I’ve taken time to write. I’ve done some but I would love to do more writing.”
Mason put on his poetry advocate hat when he acknowledged that the world does contain some bad poetry.
“By definition there is a lot of bad poetry in the world — and I’ve written a huge pile of it,” he laughed. “The thing is, even bad poetry is good for the poet in that you’re doing something creative, you’re spending some time working on telling a story or making sense of something that might not otherwise make sense to you. That’s why I would be writing poetry whether anyone was paying attention to me or not. It helps my head.”
Writing poetry allows Mason to process so many things about his life.
“The side effects of poetry are pretty sizable,” he said. “It helps me understand the world. It helps me figure out the people around me, the social situations — just by spending that time working on finding the right words for it. And that can lead to bad poetry and that’s awesome.”
Mason believes that as poets mature, they learn what to share with readers — and what to hold back.
“There are places like open mics in communities all over where it’s worth trying things out and seeing not only the audience’s reaction but to see how it feels. There are so many poems of mine that I’ve heavily revised, not because of audience reaction but because after reading it I realized that, oh, my gosh, this part is really heavy and really dry.”