Poem About Political Violence By Nebraska State Poet Gains National Attention

"The Start" was published in The New York Times newspaper today (Photo Courtesy Matt Mason)
Matt Mason is Nebraska's State Poet who was recently published in The New York Times (Photo Courtesy Matt Mason)
(Photo Courtesy Matt Mason)
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January 12, 2021 - 4:52pm

A poem by Nebraska’s State Poet was published in the New York Times today. The poem, called "The Start," talks about political violence, but was written three years ago. 

Matt Mason said he wrote the poem in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign where he heard unrestrained language being used in political discourse.

“Of course, there's violent and angry political language, but it gets stopped, you know, people speak up, people stop it, and here it just seems to keep going," he said.

The Omaha-based poet said he was watching the news of the Capitol riots last week when he remembered his old poem.

"I think that is, unfortunately, the kind of thing that I was worried about when I wrote the poem," Mason said. "That if violent language doesn't get restrained, that eventually leads to real violence."

On Sunday, Mason submitted the piece to the New York Times editor who he had previously worked with on another poem. He said ideally he would love to see his poem make people reconsider the words they use in public.

"When the people around you, when your friends, when your allies, are using the language of violence, that there's a certain amount on you to say something," he said.

Read Matt Mason's poem below:

The Start

It probably started
in a whisper, a murmur,
a low tone hardly caught by the papers,
a sticker, a poster,
a brick wall with slogans in fresh black paint
it probably started with a shove,
some bluster, a gunshot,
crushed fingers, it probably started
with a speech that caught the right ears
on an otherwise happy day,
yellow flowers in a wooden stand on the sidewalk,
red apples, radio
trying hard to smooth out the mood,
kid hurrying past, thinking,
God, is that man on the corner
about me,
pulls his hat low,
it probably started
with another man
drunk on swagger,
it probably started
with a small crowd
coaxing exciting lies,
it probably started
with a neighborhood’s head bowed
as the drone grows each day
(though they’ll claim
it came
in a quick, monstrous surprise).



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