Since 2016, Brooke Matson has been executive director of Spark Central, the nonprofit literacy and learning center in Kendall Yards, and focused on serving the West Central community. When she's not leading staff, volunteers or Spark's board of directors, Matson is writing.
In early February, she's celebrating the release of her second poetry anthology, In Accelerated Silence, which won the prestigious 2019 Jake Adam York Prize. We sat down with Matson to talk about goals for Spark, what inspires her poetry and more. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
INLANDER: Tell us about your current focuses, both in writing and for Spark.
MATSON: My writing is always changing. The book that's coming out has themes of science and grief woven together. It's very philosophical, and that is the poetry I'm drawn to.
And as far as Spark goes, we're really focusing on West Central neighborhood partnerships, particularly working with schools. We have the newspaper club at Holmes Elementary that we've really enjoyed doing, and we hope to do something with another elementary school this fall.
What goals do you and Spark's board and volunteers hope to accomplish this year?
I feel like we're focusing on how we can do what we do best, better. We have an advisory board that has West Central families and community stakeholders advising our policies and practices, and that has been really enriching. We really want to work on getting more instructors, volunteers and workshop leaders who are people of color and represent different groups other than our mostly white staff.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your tenure as Spark's executive director?
I'm really proud of the newspaper, The West Central Express, that we're doing with Holmes. It's a really great way to lift up new voices and have students comment and critique things that are going on in their school and community, and it builds writing and communications and teamwork skills that are so important.
And I'm really proud of the way we've focused on going out into the West Central neighborhood rather than expecting people to come to us. We've been really intentional with that and increased the number of programs we do offsite, and that has been really enriching for us as an organization.
Back to your poetry, can you explain what this award represents, both in the poetry world and to you?
It's to commemorate Jake Adam York, who was a great poet. I think for me — you always worry, as a writer, whether you're good enough or if your work resonates outside of yourself or your circle of writer friends — and this manuscript is really important for me to get published one way or another. I didn't think it would win this big of a prize.
Where do you find inspiration for your poetry, and what themes does the new collection explore?
I tend to write about what's on my mind. I did a lot of reading and learning about science in the last six years and when I was writing these poems, those were the metaphors that came out of it, and processing my own emotions. It's a grief manuscript — it's very emotional — but I wanted them to be very strong and solid poems. There are some questions of faith and doubt thrown in there, too. A lot of space metaphors like astrophysics and stuff like that. I guess now, looking back, I see that it's very philosophical as a manuscript, but when I was writing, it didn't feel that way.
Tell us about the collection launch event in February. What can people expect?
It's at the Spokane Civic Theatre. Because the poems are kind of intense, I wanted to not just do a typical reading. I wanted to do something more dramatic. Third Seven, [musician] Billy Mickelson, is accompanying me on cello between and during some of the poems. Billy will have his CDs, and of course there will be books.
Reflecting on the state of the arts in Spokane right now, what stands out to you most?
I'm excited that so many people are doing really innovative things. Spokane has always had a really tight arts community, and I hope we always keep that sense of community, but it's always great to see the diversity of voices growing rapidly. I feel like that is a win for everybody. ♦
In Accelerated Science: Performance & Book Release • Tue, Feb. 11 at 7:30 pm • Free • Spokane Civic Theatre • 1020 N. Howard St. • bit.ly/37zkx5P