NEA Literature Fellowships

Ted Mathys

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(2017 - Poetry)


It is not in my nature to prefer progress on principle.
Nor is it in my nature to oppose to the artificial

ficus in the optometrist’s office a dogwood in wilderness
dropping a solitary blossom into a pool of koi,

for that, neither, was ever in my nature. My nature
is foreign to me, but hi-def nature shows

are growing on me, flash frozen Alaskan salmon
is growing on me, and happy hour, Google Maps,

and water bottled at the source. It’s not in my nature
to ascribe purity to the past. Nostalgia a wasted emotion,

waste an ecological concern. Tomatoes in December
are growing on me, a vine of them garlanding my neck.

Adaptation is in my nature, so I grow inured to this.
The par-five on the back nine with a dogleg left

at the clubhouse is growing on me. And oven cleaner,
a 24-hour call center, free checking append to my chest.

My safety is growing on me. I am so safe
I can scarcely breathe. Boneless skinless bloodless

chicken breasts metastasize over my thighs like scales.
The morning after our wedding and the morning

I woke in jail in a pumpkin jumpsuit
sprout from the back of my hands.

Gas logs, the derivatives market, surround sound
and LL Bean catalogues are growing on me.

Though I’ve grown immobile and unable to see,
this is in my nature. I am an ecology.

Ted Mathys is the author of three books of poetry, Null Set (2015), The Spoils (2009), and Forge (2005), all published by Coffee House Press. The recipient of fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Poetry Society of America, his work has appeared in American Poetry Review, BOMB, Boston Review, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, PBS NewsHour, and elsewhere. He studied poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and now lives in Saint Louis, where he teaches at Saint Louis University and co-curates the 100 Boots Poetry Series at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.

Photo by Jessica Baran

Author's Statement

I’m grateful to the NEA for supporting my poetry and the poems of so many other talented writers. And I think it’s excellent that this support comes in the form of a “fellowship.” It’s not an award, which celebrates the past. Nor is it a traditional grant, which looks to the future and asks the poet to deliver on the specifics of a proposal. Rather, the fellowship feels like an investment in the current moment, in what I’m writing right now. It also feels like a personal challenge: “O.K., what do you got?”

Because my work in progress is entangled in the now, in contemporary economic and political realities – environmental threats, the militarization of police forces, etc. – the NEA’s challenge at this moment raises the stakes for my writing and gives me an added sense of urgency. The fellowship will help me make substantial progress on a new book of poems, tentatively titled Shale Plays. The title section includes a series of sonnets in modified Petrarchan form that explore hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in contemporary America. While public opinion on the practice is polarized, I’m not interested in policy debates so much as the temporal and spiritual dimensions of fracking, in how fracking reaches toward the center of the Earth and upsets our notions of geologic time.