Mateo Lara performs his poems regularly at the First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s for over a year. He has recently published his first collection of poetry, “Keta-Miha and Other Poems.” Mateo will be the featured poet at the next Open Mic on November 4. He is a Cal State University of Bakersfield student. He is studying English Language and Literature. He has always been fascinated by the darker side of life. Including: Vampires, horror movies, phantoms, and ghouls. He has tried to incorporate all the madness and macabre into his art, he first got to writing poetry in high school where the first bouts of pain, love, and growth began. He began reading the likes of Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, and the like. He has been writing ever since. He tries to give voice to topics that some are too afraid to talk or even learn about.
Mateo likes to incorporate his experiences with that of cinematic value, neon-noir, and passion, whether it is sexual or emotional. He likes to remind that it all derives from the same core. He is interested in the human condition and what it means for the universe, the people, and for everything we cannot see. He hopes to keep writing poetry as well as plays and scripts for the movies., and keep giving the world some color and maddening truth.
When did you begin to write?
A: I consider my first time writing, like actually writing with a serious purpose, probably began when I was a freshman in high school. I used to write before that, but it was just nothing of value, really. Just ideas and weird songs and stories that didn’t have much thought or quality. Haha. I really started writing for my own self in high school when I dealt with my first bouts of love, pain, growing up, identity. I didn’t have an outlet to put all this stuff I was going through and learning about, so the only thing that really helped me was to write it out. So I did. I wrote songs, journal entries, thoughts, whatever helped me get all the yucky hurt and chaos out of me. I probably still have some of those journals if I looked around my room in my boxes. But yeah, I began to write, I consider, around 13 years old, when it started taking shape and actually meaning something to my heart. As cheesy as that sounds, I’ve always been a story-teller. I liked to tell stories during recess or whenever I could. I liked to just expand my imagination and I was lucky to be able to do that and express myself, not all the time, but most of the time. And as soon as I could write and use a pencil, I was always doing it.
When did you start to write poems?
A: Ahhh, I guess I wanted to be a songwriter at first, I used to take inspiration from bands I was listening to at the time. But then it started forming differently, I found myself wanting to just speak these things. These monologues. Then they started forming into a different form. I think songwriting and poetry go hand in hand, but my writing really started to form into poetry around junior year of high school. I found myself just forming a style, rhyme schemes, taking from Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson and of course, Shakespeare. The words became something more potent and then my poetry began forming, I used to write blog posts and notes and try to make my own quotes, back in the MySpace days, and then I used to write notes on Facebook and the writings just happened and kept happening. I always needed to express myself through words because it helped me feel better about whatever was happening. and now, here we are.
What influenced you to write in general and poetry specifically?
A: I honestly think what started me writing was just my interest in books and theatre. I wanted to create my own stories, my own worlds, my own people. I really was invested in creation. And so I wanted to do it. And so I did it. I guess I tended toward poetry because I used to be scared about telling people how I felt. I’ve heard that poetry is the coward’s way of telling the truth. So I guess to tell the truth I wrote it in a poem. I used to talk about boys in poems (still guilty of that) talk about people who caused me drama, and just my family life and everything in between. Poetry became a sort of hallowed ground of thought and truth. I am getting better about cutting to the chase, but poetry definitely helped me comment on my subjective reality and world. I guess what influenced me to write was music, and people in my life who I was surrounded with. I was always the odd one out in my friends. My friends were athletes, or musicians, or smarter than me, or more creative, or whatever, and I just took to writing because no one else was really doing it and I found that curious, because I enjoyed it and it encouraged me to do it more.
When was the first time you remember reading or hearing a poem? What did you feel?
A: Let me see, the first time I actually remember becoming interested in poetry is probably everyone’s first flirtation with poetry, and that’s Shakespeare. I guess also Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein. I would read those books. And of course, Dr. Seuss. All these fantastical worlds of words and rhyme, I always found myself absorbing them. Music is also its own form of poetry, so that really was another first time of hearing poems alongside music. I remember always reading, and it made me feel good, powerful, in control, in a sense. In control, as in, I could imagine what I wanted, what the poems meant, what I could take from it. I was always constructing something in my mind when I read other’s works, forming my own ideas through theirs. I always mix my style; I still do it to this day. I feel such admiration and respect for words, the good ones and even the bad ones, but that’s subjective, haha. But nevertheless, I always feel a mix of emotions when I read and hear poetry, it is just a way of expression that has stood its test of time.
Why did you title your first collection of poems, KETA-MIHA AND OTHER POEMS?
A: Ahh, now we begin the mining, haha. For the past 3 years, my life has been a swirl of misfortune, happiness, sadness, change, shifts. If I look back now, it seems like I was in this trance, like on this super-high from some hallucinogenic. I dealt with so much heartache, growth, anger, sadness, chaos. I really couldn’t piece it all together without seeing images and fragments and not knowing what was real and what was fantasy. Everything feels like a dream sometimes, but I know it happened, but still, you never know. So with that in mind, I had written so much poetry between 2013 and now, that I didn’t know what to do with it, but I wanted to evolve and elevate myself as an artist. Earlier in 2016, I got a heaven-hell sent person into my life. His name is Mihael. He had his own past and his own demons he was fighting. He was this athletic, super straight, super interesting human being. We got to hanging out and learning about life and a shift occurred. He taught me so much, hurt me so much, showed me a different side of the universe and of life, and I could never thank him enough for that journey. He no longer lives in America, but he definitely made his impact in not only my life, but other’s lives as well. He is one of a kind. Anyway, he pushed me to write this poetry book. Plus, my spin on the title was a long time coming, I couldn’t settle on anything, but I wanted something mysterious but symbolic to my life. So Keta, is short for Ketamine, the drug, but Keta also means “a series of rapid images that come from the past…” so with that, it really summed up my life the past 3 years. In these sense that so many images rapidly attacking the mind at once and just bringing this numbness…this fantasy and reality. Miha, well that’s my friend’s nickname, and he was a major influence in writing the book, so I just combined them together. A play on words. Ketamine became Keta-Miha, and that’s the story. It really explains my life from the past few years. From love, change, learning, evolving, everything. I always find my poetry cinematic, a quality of haze and whimsical fashion, and I incorporate it a lot into my writing, Mihael really helped push me to always expand and see the world for what a lot of people don’t see it as. As much as he brought me pain, he also brought me insight.
In the dedication to the book, you mention “and those who tried to stifle my creativity.” This is interesting that you dedicated to these persons. Why?
A: I wanted to acknowledge everyone in my life in this first book. From the ones who never supported me, who thought me wanting to be a writer or pursuing this whole artist thing was stupid and I wasn’t good enough to do it, well this is the debut and here I am. So essentially, telling them, well, look, I made it, this is for you too. A lot of boys I used to talk to thought it was dumb for me to go down this path, and it was “Too gay” or whatever, or “too this” or “too that” some people still think that, but I think it’s a healthy outlet and process to show the world something different. And something from the soul. Subjective or not. I’ve had people tell me that I’m not a good writer, or this or that, and this just proves to them, I know I am okay and good and even if you wanted me to fail, well here I am. Thank you for fueling the fire.
Which poem in the book do you want to express more about?
A: I can honestly say I am proud of all of the poems in this book. I picked them with a reason and I wanted to express all I had done up until this moment. But I guess the turning point of my writing, where I knew this was something else, was the poem: New Blood Hymns. The first line is: “And at first it pummels you/and slips between your thin skin.” I think that image hit me one night so deeply I had to just expand on it. It really incorporated my style and what I like to express. Color, sex, life, change, universe. Just this whole moving entity and story. I wrote it about my friend, Mihael. There’s literally a whole part in the book called: The Vukić Poems, that are dedicated all to him. Some bad, some good, some angry, some happy. But nevertheless, true emotions. Anyway, back to the poem, I like to express these images, this cinematic picture of what I am feeling and how it connects to the world, however small I am in this big universe, I still hold weight with my soul and it matters. And this poem: New Blood Hymns, really encompasses this whole shift in my life about destruction and rebirth and how you will hurt, pain is inevitable and change, but there’s always something new to take away from a situation and life and you will keep going, in aftermath there is always growth.
What is the connection between the design/illustrations on the covers of the book and inside the book with the poems?
A: I have a very dear friend, Ryan Bailey, who is a graphic designer in his spare time. I had been talking to him about my poetry book, before it’s conception, and I needed an image, something harsh but meaningful. One day he sent me these pictures and they were beautiful. They were raw and enigmatic, but colorful and deep. I wanted something that represented the mind, the veins of the body, and nature. So he sent me the images of these flowers. They were very abstract but colorful and it was perfect. They connected my theme of the book. The threads of the soul that are of nature, but also of everything else. The images really relay that whole you see what you want to see, is it real or not real? Is it a flower or a face, or a heart? You don’t know, but it is up for your interpretation and that’s what we took out of it. SO, thank you Ryan! Haha.
You mention “tundra” in more than one poem—in “Keta” and in “A Confessional.” What is tundra to you. I was in Alaska and in an area with tundra one summer. So I am curious about how it was that you chose tundra to be in your poems.
A: Yes, Tundra to me is a huge symbol for life, the perseverance of nature, people, the endurance of the spirit. My whole philosophy is thriving. You must thrive even in the harshest conditions. You have to let life do its thing and you have to survive it. Where tundra exists, animals, and nature still manage to make it home and thrive, basically find life in a place where things seem dead and cold and inactive. Tundra plays an important part, ice, nature, really, it is also the image of the flower in the front of the book. It is an interpretation of an Alaskan poppy. It manages to grow in harsh environments, cold, devastating weather and withstand life. And I feel like that is what people must do. Thrive in the parts of their life that are swallowed by Tundra.
Anything else you want to express to the Kern Poetry community?
A: I think I am extremely blessed to be creating art in a time where art is finally getting the recognition and respect it deserves. The whole art community in Kern County has really evolved and progressed so much in just a short time and it’s great to see it grow and I look forward to it growing even more in the coming years. Especially being able to invest in it, and find a platform, I am blessed to write and share my experiences and life and social commentary on our ever-changing world and tell my truth and show my colors. I thank everyone in my life who is still here, everyone who used to be here, and everyone else who will be here eventually. Things always change, but you’ve gotta have your mind open and your heart ready. And I am. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store and ready to begin the journey of my next book. Every day I am writing more and more, and I am thankful for art and everyone involved in it.
So thank you.