Category: News

Newspaper article from my week in Alliance

“In the past when we’ve had artisan residents that bring in all sorts of instruments and they have been fantastic artists but Mr. Mason was just super personable,” said Grandview Elementary Principal Chris Bailey. “He was just so engaging. All he had was a note pad and all he did was talk about his travels and read his poems and the students just loved it. We’ve had some elaborate presentations but here was this guy that stood up there with his poems and he really resonated with them.

See the whole article by Kay Bakkehaug here: starherald.com/news/local/nebraska-state-poet-gives-local-students-lessons/article_51328048-9c3c-11ed-a42f-d75d07e7e948.html [There is a paywall, I can read the whole article with my phone but not on my laptop]

My Week in Alliance

It’s been a full, snowy, wonderful week in Alliance, Nebraska. I worked with 4th graders in three different grade schools and also was able to run out for readings at the Sidney Public Library and the Bridgeport Public Library. The week ended with a reading tonight in Alliance where a dozen of the 4th grade students joined me with poems they worked on this week. Thanks, Alliance Arts Council and Nebraska Arts Council for all you do to bring poetry around this great state!

4 Events Coming Up in the Panhandle

Next week, I’ll be in Alliance to work with 4th graders there, during which I’ll be doing readings around the area. Spread the word! (All times are Mountain Time)

  • Monday, 1/16, 6pm at the Sidney Public Library (1112 12th Ave, Sidney). 
  • Tuesday, 1/17, 5:30pm at the Bridgeport Public Library (722 Main St, Bridgeport).
  • Thursday, 1/19, 6pm at the Sioux County Public Library (182 W 3rd St, Harrison).
  • Friday, 1/20, 7pm at the Alliance High School Performing Arts Center (1450 Box Butte Ave, Alliance). This program is open to the public and tickets are available at Carnegie Arts Center, Redman’s Shoes or at the door.
 
And thank you, Alliance Arts Council and Nebraska Arts Council for making the programs in Alliance possible!

Read more at: https://alliancetimes.com/alliance-arts-council-to-host-state-poet/

2023 State Of The State Poet Address!

And now: Your 2023 State Of The State Poet Address. [Cue the trumpets!]

Hello, all! With just under 2 years left in my term as State Poet, I have to say how thrilled I am to be your poetry ambassador, visiting schools and communities to write poetry, listen to poetry, read poetry, and talk shop about poetry in schools, libraries, bars, theaters, street corners, coffee shops, living rooms, wherever you’ll have me.

In my project to participate in poetry events in all 93 Nebraska counties, I’m back to making progress (after an extended pandemic break) and have been honored to present at least once in 43 Nebraska counties so far. That leaves a lot to go, but as I made it to 31 counties during my first full year, I feel it’s going to happen (barring too many blizzards, ice storms, virus variants, and other such things).

This past year, I left my job leading the Nebraska Writers Collective (Who you should donate to RIGHT NOW as they are more amazing than ever) and am now working to make my living as a poet/speaker/etc.

How does that work? Good question… one I’ve been asking myself a lot. I’ve been granted time thanks to a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets which essentially pays me a salary for the next 6 months and I hope to extend that to, well, forever.

That time is being used to write, of course, but also to see if I can figure out this earning a living through commissioned poems, poetry readings, writing workshops, corporate trainings, book signings, giving talks, and more (both in Nebraska and around the country).

Over the past year, I’ve been commissioned to write several poems, facilitated a team building session for a board of trustees, appeared at schools, libraries, community events, and many others in Nebraska, California, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Washington. I hope for a lot more in 2023 so that I can keep doing the work I feel most talented at and excited by. So far, I have appearances lined up in about 10 Nebraska counties this spring as well as in Wyoming and Iowa.

Also this year, I published a new book: At The Corner of Fantasy and Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros from The Old Mill Press. What started as a project I wasn’t sure about turned into what might be my most meaningful book so far so I hope you’ll check it out: https://theoldmillpress.com/product/at-the-corner-of-fantasy-and-main-disneyland-midlife-and-churros/

As I move forward, please let me know if you would be interested in bringing me in, commissioning a poem, or know any agents, contacts at businesses, colleges, high schools, etc. who you’d recommend me to in Nebraska and beyond. I’ve thrown myself out into the universe this year and hope to make this work out.

And thank you to Humanities Nebraska, the Nebraska Arts Council, and the Nebraska Library Commission for making it possible for Nebraska to have a State Poet. Please follow and support them.

Here’s to a poetic 2023!

Day 3: Skating in Chadron

Poetry is often finding order inside chaos, exploring the undefinable to find its borders, to work it into something tangible and explainable. So, of course, poets are the best ones to have in your corner when you have a few hundred high school students on your campus and black ice suddenly on the roads.

Zedeka, joe and I were supposed to run a morning open mic at Chadron State College for students coming in from around the region for their Scholastic Day. We were expected to have a small group of students coming and going between taking tests to hopefully earn scholarships to the College, but I started receiving texts from Markus early that morning with alerts about the roads, campus, hundreds of students stuck in the Student Center.

So we do what poets do: We ran an open mic. We cajoled students into writing poems and then reading them out loud. We had a blast.

It was a fun morning, with a number of the Chadron State English students reading with us, a few professors, too. And we had a number of high school students who were full of “Oh, I’m no poet” energy finding themselves turning around and reading with us for a few hours. joe even got one hesitant student (who, in round one, refused to read her poem out loud but did let joe read it) to read her own poem late in the day. Poetry for the win.

Afterward, I even got to read my poem “Notes For My Daughter Against Chasing Storms” in front of a room of students about to take an essay exam about that same poem.

Thanks for hosting us, Chadron, and wonderful job, English Department, on rolling with the punches.

Day 2, Gordon: the Nebraska Poetry Pen Pal Program Proceeds

After a day like we had in Valentine, everything after just has to be a disappointment, right?

Wrong.

We rolled up at Gordon-Rushville High School not sure what to expect. joe found himself captivated by a metal sculpture of a horse’s head by the main entrance, the principal turns out to be someone I’ve worked with before, and we found my friend Tracy Baker’s senior photo on display with the class of ’92. Okay, good start.

And all three of us had a blast. It was another group of fun students with smart questions, dedicated teachers, and we enjoyed talking in classes and at an all-school assembly. We even found out the sculpture we’d admired wasn’t made by some famous graduate (as I’d thought) but by some of the students we were talking with!

Students directed us to the Fuel Grill for dinner and it was the right move. They have creatively-named sandwiches (I had the Geo Metro, it was delightful) which didn’t disappoint. Then we had time before our Gordon Theater reading and so stopped by the library. On this tour, I’m donating a pair of Nebraska poetry anthologies to the schools and libraries, so we handed them copies of Watching The Perseids and Nebraska Poetry: A Sesquicentennial Anthology. After that, we also went to Harvest Coffeehouse (Caffeine!), and Joe’s Games for some Asteroids, Defender, pinball, and more.

The Gordon Theater is a great space, fairly recently renovated, for a poetry reading and the students and community came out with a good crowd. It made for a fun, interactive reading, and there were even encore poems requested. Afterward, we talked with a group of students about what it takes to run their own open mic, and we helped connect them with the Theater’s owner and a board member who was there. So, Gordon, we look forward to returning and reading at your open mic!

I was touched, too, as one of the students ran outside and came back to present me with a bundle of sage. It’s an honor to work with these students and spend some time talking about poetry.

Poetry is more than a lesson plan, it’s something special where we get to say who we are, figure out little bits of this world, and listen to others do the same. I feel lucky to get to do this, especially with artists like Zedeka and joe.

The Nebraska Poetry Pen Pal Program is Off to a Great Start in Valentine!

Valentine, you waterfall city, you beauty on the Niobrara, you poet-feeding wonder!

I rolled into Valentine with poets Zedeka Poindexter and joe fromLongIsland for the first stop of the Nebraska Poetry Pen Pal Program this past Monday. We spent the day at Valentine High School, meeting with some pretty wonderful students and teachers, reading poetry, answering questions, geeking out about some poetry at a full school assembly and then several different classes through the day.

We had a break which included lunch at the Coach Light Inn and a waterfall visit, both of which were stunning. The coach light had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had (Cream cheese, pepper jelly and bacon on it? Why, yes, that sounds delightful), what has to be the finest pie in the region (peanut butter pie? Sour cream and raisin? Lemon Meringue? Don’t mind if we do… ), and then the hike down to Fort Falls just outside of town was just what I needed after such a lunch.

In the evening, we had another great meal at the Peppermill and a reading at the Valentine Public Library, a place I think joe wants to move into for the fireplace and the conversations with some of the best librarians around.

We had a warm reception at the school and the reading, we really felt honored by how well Valentine treated us and how the students engaged us in really wonderful conversations. Even a stop at the Dollar Tree proved magical as, when the clerk asked what we were in town for and we answered “Poetry,” he lit up and ended up playing me a recording of a song he wrote with lyrics that knocked me out and talent on the guitar and drums.*

Valentine, thank you. We all want you to adopt us.

Thank you, Academy of American Poets and the Mellon Foundation, Humanities Nebraska, Valentine Public Library (especially you, Anne Quigley), and Valentine High School for making this possible. Thank you, too, Niobrara Lodge, you treated us well!

*=Bonus Track: The musician I talked to at the Dollar Tree said to look for him at Apple Music. When I did, I found this (it’s not the song he played me but you still get the sense): https://music.apple.com/us/artist/kid-on-the-hill/1649809336