Like many poets, Brooke Matson has written since childhood. In high school, the benefit of a favorite English teacher’s careful guidance served to solidify that early enthusiasm into a lifelong passion.
“Sometimes teachers teach poetry like it’s some complex algebra problem that needs to be solved,” Matson said. She was lucky enough to have the direction of a teacher who taught her to explore. “We make poetry so hard to reach and interpret when really it’s the most accessible. It’s like scribbling a thought on a piece of paper and having someone else read it. The only difference is that a lot of work went into that little scribble.”
In college, reading countless books of poetry dramatically changed Matson’s understanding of what poetry could be, ingraining in her a more serious approach to her own writing.
“I was really dumbstruck,” Matson said of Louise Gluck’s “The Wild Iris.” Before reading that book, poetry to her had meant self-narrative more than anything. “But this book, it’s a kaleidoscope of … voices.”
The many voices and perspectives of poems like this were a particular fascination for her, both those in her own work and of other writers, from Mary Oliver to the next grad student getting published in a poetry journal for the first time.
“They can all change my thinking,” she said. “Poetry is very democratic in that sense.”
Matson’s second book of poetry, “In Accelerated Silence” is primarily a work of grief, but it also embodies a personal interrogation of the universe, echoing the new understanding she gained from reading “The Wild Iris” that as a poet one can take on a whole host of voices, even – and perhaps especially – from things that don’t actually speak.
“The book is an interrogation of faith, scientific concepts and how they connect to loss,” Matson said. “I did not set out to write this book particularly. I knew I wanted to put together a collection of poems, but, as with most artistic projects, it was a journey of exploration and following threads.”
Following threads and chasing down some of the more haunting ideas that developed from them, she explained, was integral to writing the book. “With anything traumatic, there are certain things that tend to haunt you,” she said. “If I had avoided those or tried to make it neat or beautiful, it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did. That has its own beauty.”
Before winning the Jake Adam York Prize, Matson had been working on “In Accelerated Silence” for nearly four years. Her writing process is simple: Set a timer, sit down, pick a topic and start writing. Her goal is to riff on her topics the way a musician might pick up a guitar and start playing around with notes or the way a painter would approach a canvas placing paint here and there little by little.
This is, of course, easier said than done, Matson admits. She is frequently reminded as much; in addition to her writing career, she also balances the role of executive director at Spark Central.
“I know this is very oversimplified, but to me, the process (of writing) is just to sit down for a period of time, write and just see what comes out,” she said.
Gathering feedback from other local poets and mentors was another crucial step in the process. “We have a great community of writers here in Spokane. There were so many writers here willing to read my work and give me feedback on it,” she said. “Had I not had that, I don’t think it would have won the prize.”
For aspiring authors, she offered the following advice: “Show up at your desk every day. You get inspired by sitting down and starting. It’s easy to mystify the process and say you’ll do it when inspiration strikes or you’ll do it when you have a great idea to pursue, that you won’t do it on days where you feel uninspired.
“I used to believe that, but the opposite is true. The people who wait for inspiration never write much at all.”
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