Matthew Olzmann

Conversation with Matthew Olzmann, Kundiman Poetry Prize Winner

Conversation with Matthew Olzmann, Kundiman Poetry Prize Winner

What was going through your head when you were writing the poems in the manuscript you submitted for the Poetry Prize? What were your inspirations and motivations?

The poems in Mezzanines were written over a six or seven-year period (with the majority of them being written during my last year in grad school and the year that followed). Until recently, I tended to write while thinking only about individual poems, rather than “collections” of poems. I wasn’t sure how they would fit together in a larger collection, or if they would go together in a book. That part came much later in the process. Once I had a substantial number of poems, I started organizing them and noticing thematic threads, figurative resonances, repetitions and obsessions. Turning that into a manuscript involved a long process of trial and error. Putting the poems in different orders. Discarding poems. Adding new poems. Seeing where the holes were and writing toward those spaces. The book that eventually became Mezzanines went through many evolutions. It existed with different titles, and dozens of poems shuffled their way in and out of its pages. I sent it to all the contests, and kept revising it. At some point, I decided to stop working on it and just let it exist for a while. I sent it out for a year without making any changes. After a year, I made some more revisions to it, but this time I was revising without having been staring at it everyday. Maybe that perspective–—that added distance—–helped. The manuscript found a home. Then I started revising it again.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a collection of (mostly) epistolary poems: letters, and poems about post offices. A lot of my poems use some element of direct address, or at least begin that way in early drafts, and this new collection leans into that mode more fully and consciously. I’m also working on some flash fiction and short lyric essays.

What advice do you have for writers looking to submit their manuscript?

Send to the presses that you truly love. You only get to publish this book once, so be patient, and find the press that’s the right fit for you and your work. If you’re thinking of submitting specifically to the Kundiman Prize, know that your work will be read with great care. The people who will be reading your work are rooting for you. A year or two after being selected for the Kundiman Prize, I had the opportunity to serve as a reader for the prize. Each manuscript was read by more than one reader, and careful attention was given to each. It can be daunting sending to contests, but know that there are people out there who are cheering for you.


Matthew Olzmann is the author of two collections of poems, Mezzanines, which was selected for the Kundiman Prize, and Contradictions in the Design, both from Alice James Books.  He’s received fellowships from Kundiman, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Kresge Arts Foundation.  His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in  Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Brevity, Southern Review and elsewhere. Currently, he teaches at Dartmouth College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

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Poets Playing: Exquisite Corpse

From top to bottom the images/texts are by:

Rachelle Cruz lives in Southern Cali. Her text/image was completed with the help of her CRWT 150 students, Melanie and Jonathan.

Desiree Bailey lives in Providence, RI and is an MFA Fiction candidate at Brown University. She has received fellowships from Princeton in Africa, The Norman Mailer Center and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. She is the current Fiction editor for Kin Folks.

Eduardo Corral first book Slow Lightning was published by Yale University Press in 2012 as the winner of the Yale Younger Series Poets Prize. Corral was born in Casa Grande, Arizona to Higinio and Socorro Corral. He currently lives in Rego Park, Queens, New York. 

Lisa Lee is a writer living in Los Angeles.

Rona Luo is a writer and healer living in Oakland, California.

Rajiv Mohabir studies writing in Honolulu and loves poems by Kundies, Kabir, and humpback whales. Check out some of his work here:

Rachel Ronquillo Gray was born and raised in Nevada; she now lives in the Midwest and is trying to live without mountains. 

Poet and visual artist Maya Pindyck is the author of the collection Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press) and the chapbook Locket, Master (Poetry Society of America).

Matthew Olzmann is the author of Mezzanines (Alice James Books), selected for the 2011 Kundiman Prize. His poems have appeared in New England ReviewKenyon ReviewGulf Coast,The Southern Review and elsewhere. He’s received fellowships and scholarships from the Kresge Arts FoundationThe Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Currently, he teaches at Warren Wilson College and is the poetry editor of The Collagist.

August 27: Tamiko Beyer, Matthew Olzmann, & Jamaal May read at Word for Word in Bryant Park

Word for Word Poetry welcomes Alice James Books
Bryant Park Reading Room
(mid-block on the 42nd Street side of Bryant Park)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013
7:00pm – 8:30pm

More here: 


Tamiko Beyer spent the first ten years of her life in Tokyo, Japan, and has since lived in cities near the water on the West and East coast. She is the author of We Come Elemental (Alice James Books) and bough breaks (Meritage Press). She received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis where she was awarded a Chancellor's Fellowship. Beyer has received grants and fellowships from Kundiman, the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund, and VONA/Voices. She is the Senior Writer at Corporate Accountability International in Boston.

Jamaal May is a poet, editor, and educator from Detroit, MI where he taught poetry in public schools and worked as a freelance audio engineer and touring performer. He is the author of Hum (Alice James Books, Nov 2013), winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award, and two poetry chapbooks (The God Engine and The Whetting of Teeth). His poems have been published widely in journals such as POETRY,Ploughshares, The Believer, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and New England Review.   

 Matthew Olzmann is a graduate of the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon ReviewNew England ReviewInchGulf CoastRattle, and elsewhere. He’s received fellowships from Kundiman and the Kresge Arts Foundation. 

Kundiman Prize Reading: Matthew Olzmann's Mezzanines

Join us as we come together to celebrate Matthew Olzmann's Mezzanines, recently published by Alice James Books!
  • Thursday, May 9, 2013
  • 7:00pm – 8:30pm
  • Fordham University (map)
  • 113 W. 60th Street, South Lounge
  • New York, NY

 Facebook event page here:

“Olzmann’s masterful debut heralds the arrival of a delightful and daring poetry that scorches and coils its way through galaxies, strip malls, and the intricacies of the human body. With a wickedly delightful wisdom at its core, Mezzanines practices the most graceful kind of alchemy—its greatest strength is how it turns tiny heartbreaks into a bright and satisfying beauty.”

—Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“Olzmann has an outsider’s wit and a border crosser’s slick vision. From seam, threshold, and cut, these poems navigate the galactic and the aquatic, the immediate and the imaginary, the reasonable and the American. He’s amused by his own bewilderment. What’s more, he manages to never abandon love. Olzmann’s skilled play, terrific ear, and immense heart make Mezzanines a must-read.”

—Patrick Rosal

“With Mezzanines Matthew Olzmann has given us a vibrant new poetry, as soulful as it is funny. Sci-fi and snake charms, love poems, ship wrecks, and a dash of artful self-parody—the materials of his narratives come from all over the cosmos to find, in this wonderful poet’s hands, a shape crackling with power that’s connective, convincing, and true.”

—David Baker