Shawnte Orion's The Existentialist Cookbook is a barrel-ride of styles down swirling rapids. His poems switch voices like a chameleon switches shades (then they make fun of the chameleon just as you are thinking that), as he writes poems listed as found poems, as not-yet-written by other poets poems, as poems that come across like a party of different personalities in his head where you get a title like "Kentucky Freud Chicken" mixed with botany lessons mixed with puns mixed with lines so lovely they leave you reading slowly so as not to miss bits like: "The wind looks for sailboats, but finds/each miniscule opening/between the buttons of your/brand new jacket." Get your life jacket or water wings ready. Dive in.
—Matt Mason, author of The Baby That Ate Cincinnati
Matt Mason is officially an International Man Of Mystery, so this is the one that took the longest to chase down. The State Department sent him off to Botswana for awhile to teach slam poetry workshops (or at least that's the cover story that we're supposed to believe).
But I was willing to wait because it was important for me to have Matt involved. About seven years ago, I was scheduled to open for him when he came to Phoenix to do a workshop and reading at The Paper Heart. I knew nothing about him at the time, but he was awesome and he probably blew me off the stage and I immediately became a fan.
The way he was able to blend the craft of his writing into memorable performances left a great impression on me. It gave me something to strive for in my own way and it certainly helped shape many of the poems in The Existentialist Cookbook.
After the show we traded chapbooks and one of the ones he gave me was Mistranslating Neruda which was a beautiful production from Diagram/New Michigan Press (seriously, they do wonderful work over there and their catalog is impressive). It's Mason's homage to Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. A translation from someone who doesn't speak Spanish. I've probably purchased about 6 or 7 copies of this over the years, because I often give mine away if someone seems interested.
I have also loved both of his full length collections, The Baby That Ate Cincinnati (Stephen F. Austin University Press) and Things We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (The Backwaters Press).
And he is likely the only poet I have met who has actually WON a Pushcart Prize (for this poem below).
If you missed my other two Blurb Week posts on Kellli Russell Agodon and Denise Duhamel,
just scroll back a few posts.