By: Elliot O'Lipchik
The Irish American Post Poetry Editor
I had the pleasure of chatting with Matthew Brogan, the newly appointed Director of the Poetry Society of American (PSA), about his
interests and career.
Matt has a good Irish surname. It can be traced back to St. Brogan, who was Saint Patrick’s nephew and scribe. Wikipedia cites several meanings for Brogan: “sorrowful,” “sharp -faced,” “sturdy” and “strong.”
Matt’s Irish roots go back to his great-great grandparents, who emigrated to the United States, (ca. 1840-’50), the time of the Potato Famine. They settled in a small mining town in Pennsylvania. Both his grandfather and father worked at the Roebling Steel Mill in nearby New Jersey. Roebling was the company that designed and helped build the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as provided steel for other notable structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Matt has been to Ireland several times. His last visit, with wife and son, visited the counties of Connemara, Mayo and Donegal, the origins of his ancestors.
Matt himself was born in a Levittown in New Jersey and had no interest in poetry until his senior year in high school, when a teacher introduced him to several great poets. This tempted him to major in poetry as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, but he chose to opt for political science instead, thinking that poetry may be an unlikely choice of profession. He went on to earn a Master’s Degree in English Literature from Tufts University, after which his high school teacher’s inspiration for the love of verse, gradually led to an interest in poetry’s role in society. He spent several years in graduate school at the University of California Berkeley to explore this area more.
Matt’s first job was with California Magazine and subsequently his entire professional career has been in the nonprofit sector to develop, design and produce public literary programs. His numerous positions and accomplishments of the last 25 years span numerous careers, with poetry as a focus. His specialties include marketing, fund raising, financial management and organizational development.
The mission of the PSA fits perfectly with Matt’s goals: to build a larger and more diverse audience for poetry, and to encourage more interest and appreciation in the diversity and depth of poetry. He emphasized there was a need to develop adventurist readers, as well as to make poetry accessible to a larger audience in the States. “We want to make poetry exciting for people,” he explained. Prior to the new job at the PSA, while still Executive Director at the Academy of American Poets, he and several contemporaries established April as, National Poetry Month in 1996.
One of the methods for accomplishing these goals is, “Poetry In Motion.” This idea started in l992, when PSA began placing poems in public spaces where people could see and read them, such as in buses and trains. Poems have been placed in more than 30 transit systems in the United States. More recently, the poems focus more on illustrating discovery and joy, hopefully to bring a bright moment into the riders’ day. After all, prior to the pandemic and social distancing, six million people would ride the New York City subway daily. What exposure to poems!
“Poetry in Motion” is just one of the PSA’s programs. “Poetry On Wheels,” provides poetry for homebound people, mostly senior citizens, who receive poems with the meals delivered to them. “Poetry In Outdoors,” posts poems in botanical gardens, parks and other public places. In other words, anywhere and everywhere poems can be placed for the public to see and read. Hospitals and care centers should eventually receive poems, according to Matt.
He still enjoys writing poetry and fiction whenever his many obligations allow. He has books and numerous publications of articles and poems in numerous journals. His poems tend to be philosophical, literary and whimsical. Like many authors, he said that the ideas for his writing arise from many different sources, including the personal. Two of his published poems that were particularly fascinating for me are, “Origins of the English Language” and “Donald Thinks.” The latter, follows the adventures of a character, intellectually striving, but a bit dense. “Donald’s” readings and misreadings of classical literature, including the Irish epic, “The Tain,” is not political satire. Instead, Matt’s goal was to create someone in a literary sense who embodied both intellect and stupidity. Other notable poets such as Zbigniew Herbert and John Berryman have also employed this character-driven approach.
In discussing the role of the Irish poets in the world of poetry today, Matt shared that there is a strong connection in the US with Ireland. Irish poets are well known here. The Irish poets of today are, “amazing and flourishing.” Other foreign poets and writers often face more of a challenge than the Irish to be published here, even the English.
I asked Matt what he thought about the future of poetry. He replied that he is optimistic about the future, particularly in the United States. He believes poetry is flourishing, with such diversity of style and subject matter that more and more readers should find a welcoming home.