Interview: Poet Matt Mason, Author of “At The Corner of Fantasy And Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros”

Walt Disney was so profound when he said that Disneyland would be a place where Guests could relive “fond memories of the past” while also inspiring youth (and the young at heart) to “savor the challenge and promise of the future.” In that vein, Nebraska's State Poet, Matt Mason, has let “The happiest place on earth” inspire him to dream and create something new. At The Corner of Fantasy And Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros is a collection of original poems written about that special place in Anaheim that perpetually beckons us to return, or at least dream about it constantly. Matt was kind enough to take the time to tell me more about his latest release through an interview, along with a few samples of pages from the book. Enjoy!

(The Old Mill Press)

(The Old Mill Press)

Alex: Congratulations on the launch of At the Corner of Fantasy and Main. Where did your love of Disney and Disneyland start?

Matt Mason: Well, the book really kind of covers it. It's an odd story in that as a kid I went to Disneyland with my parents and then I went to college out in the Bay Area and we made a few trips with friends down to Disneyland. And I've always watched Disney movies, but it's never been I would think that clear an obsession or focus for me. But I've got two daughters now and a great family and we went to Disneyland in 2015 and had a blast. And then went again a couple years later, and then something clicked for me. I turned 49 years old and woke up one day not able to stop thinking about Disneyland. And so I was doing research by watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, looking at books, looking up articles and just all this research. And I felt kind of weird about it. It's like, why am I suddenly so obsessed with Disneyland? But I wasn't writing about it. And finally, my wife, who's also a poet, was like, "You are clearly doing a lot of research," because she would get in the car with me and I would quickly turn away from a podcast to listen to the radio station. And finally she was just like, "Why don't you just start writing about it?” And it made sense, so I did and ended up having the most fun I've ever had with a book project, and I've really kept with it. I still have way too many Disney podcasts on my phone and am still doing some fun research and reading and keeping track of things.

Alex: It's a fun rabbit hole to dive down for sure. You’ve written poems in a wide variety of places, including writing one specifically on Pirates of the Caribbean. Do you keep a notepad on hand and wherever the mood strikes, you start putting pen to paper?

Matt Mason: Oh yeah. I've always got pen and paper with me. I mean, my cover is that I'm a diabetic, which I am, so I've always got to have a kit with me and it's got a notebook and at least two or three pens at any given time. (One of the pens is from The Disneyland Hotel).

Alex: The poem that you wrote on Pirates of the Caribbean, is it about Pirates of the Caribbean, or is it completely unrelated? Is that poem in this book?

Matt Mason: Yeah, the poem is in the book. I was there working on the manuscript because I had been writing a lot, and I live in Nebraska and so I was writing most of the poems from home. But I kind of took a two-week writing residency in Disneyland, which is kind of awesome. Sitting by Jolly Holiday up at one of the upper tables, doing writings, sending poems to magazines to try to get them published, looking for publishers for the manuscript. And then you take a break and go to Pirates of the Caribbean. It's kind of the best place ever. So I wrote a poem on Pirates, just in lights and it was a poem that the first draft of it on paper just looks god awful because I'm in the dark half the time writing. It's called “Poem Review Composed on Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean.” And it just kind of takes it point by point, reviewing Pirates of the Caribbean as a poem.

Alex: That's exciting and I'm looking forward to reading that. Are they all about Disneyland or are so some of them a little more personal?

Matt Mason: The poems are a mix. Most of them are straightforward Disneyland. It goes back and forth in time from the 1974 trip with my parents to pretty much through the 2018 trip with family. And most of them are about attractions, experiences in Disneyland. And a few of them are outside, just about midlife and contemplating churros and things that happen. So it's a definite mix of that.

Alex: How many poems are in the book?

Matt Mason: I think there are about 50 poems total in the book, and of the ones that I wrote potentially for the book, probably about 60 or 70… Some just didn't fit. There's a fair amount of B-sides that either didn't quite fit or a few poems that were about Disney California Adventure Park, but just a couple, so it didn't really fit in there. And then some I've just had that I've written after I had the book pretty well together because Disneyland poetry keeps coming.

Alex: I can relate to not going a day without thinking about Disneyland. You mentioned that you did a two-week residency at Disneyland where you did some writing, and I've talked to other authors who have written about Disneyland and did something similar. But I'm curious about the timeline of this project, when was that trip?

Matt Mason: Well, it was May 2018. I bought an annual pass back in February of that year when it was really inexpensive, right before the prices started really ramping up for Galaxy's Edge/Black Spire Outpost. And so I went, I had a cheap hotel room and was in there every day except for Saturdays… And just that little table up at the top of Jolly Holiday, it was so relaxing. And people kind of looked at me weird because I've got a laptop out and it's 8:05 in the morning and I'm not queued up ready to run.

Alex: Since you wrote a lot of the book at Jolly Holliday Bakery, is the location of that restaurant what inspired the title of the book, given its location on Main Street in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, the entrance to Fantasyland?

Matt Mason: I ended up having a lot of poems that are about the intersections of lands in Disneyland. So there are several poems, there's “At the Corner of Fantasy and Main,” but there's also “At the Corner of Tomorrow and Fantasy,” or different places where the lands meet that ended up just being really fun to record the spaces.

Matt was kind enough to read the poem that gave the book its title and gave me permission to share it here.

Copyright Matt Mason/The Old Mill Press

Copyright Matt Mason/The Old Mill Press

Alex: That made me feel so warm and fuzzy. You're from Nebraska. You're the Nebraska State poet so you're not necessarily a Southern Californian who gets to experience Disneyland as often as a lot of Southern Californians do. How do you think where you come from has impacted the way that you look at Disneyland? Do you feel like it gives you a different perspective?

Matt Mason: Yeah. I mean, it definitely is different for me I think because Disneyland isn't part of the landscape, it is a destination. Though I remember when I was a kid, we'd drive the interstate towards downtown in Omaha and there was all this metal architecture for I think a Purina plant or something like that. And I would see that and I would always ask my parents because I was convinced for some reason that that was Disneyland or something on the outskirts of Disneyland. But we would never stop there. And it kind of ends up being that's what the book is about, is that this space isn't part of the landscape for me locally but it is a place like a touchstone. So all these different parts of my life intersect in this space and it just kind of happens to be Disneyland.

Alex: Midlife is in the title too, you mentioned that you're 49. And you've also talked about trips to Disneyland that have spanned decades and so you've watched the park grow and change. What types of feelings do those instill in you and have those found their way into this book?

Matt Mason: One of the underlying themes of the book is memory and just the magic of it and also the problems with it. Because there's one poem all about the submarine voyages, which is my favorite ride back. I love the older version though with the sea monster. And so it is neat to be there in a place that changes but not a ton. Like the castle, the streets, a lot of it is exactly the same as it was in 1974, but just enough of it, like little twinges of it keep changing. And that comes up in some of the poems with some of the differences, but also just about, I'm walking the exact same streets I walked with my parents. And the book came shortly after my mom passed away, my dad had passed away years before. But with both of them gone, for some reason Disneyland kind of crept into the landscape as one of the first places I have memories of them. And so after they're gone, it makes it a little bit more special in those ways too.

Alex: I’m sorry for your losses. Churros are also in the title, you mentioned that you are diabetic. Does that change how you relate to snacks in the park?

Matt Mason: I think kind of similar to how Disneyland is not part of my landscape, food is a different part of the landscape for me in that there are restrictions in getting it and having it. So being diabetic I can have churros but have to take insulin, have to make sure I'm getting exercise. But Disneyland is like a magic place for that even for diabetics because I'm not eating a churro and just sitting around on the sofa, I'm eating churro and walking 10 or 20 miles. So it all works out thankfully.

Alex: At The Corner of Fantasy And Main is being published by Old Mill Press, which is run by Dave Bossert. How did this project end up at the Old Mill Press?

Matt Mason: Man, it was kind of luck. I mean, this is a book that I had a version of it done by the end of 2018. But it is a book of poetry about Disneyland. So I tried to approach Disney publishers and they're like, "a book of poetry"?. I tried to approach poetry publishers and they're like, "a book about Disneyland"? So it's a weird mix. And even though it's been such an amazingly fun project, I kind of realized that it may never get published. But then I was listening to a podcast called Mousetalgia and they had an interview with Dave Bossert on one of his books. And I looked up Old Mill Press and there's of course the Claude Coats book, 3D Disneyland, and a random book of Christmas poetry. And it's like, "whoa". So they've got a few poetry books, and mostly Disney stuff, but I reached out to them, they took a look at it and snapped it up. It was the right place.

Alex: Are there any plans for you to travel to promote the book at, for example, Disney fan conventions?

Matt Mason: I hope so. I've reached out to a couple fan conventions and I haven't heard back… I would love to travel and read from the book, and plan to. I think once I know and have the copies in hand, I'll be planning a lot of readings around Nebraska and also some folks who wanted to bring me out to Oregon. And then of course, anything I can set up near Disneyland I'm up for because then I get to go to Disneyland and have a churro.

Alex: What would you say to a Disney fan who might not necessarily seek out poetry to get them to take a look at your book?

Matt Mason: Getting this book published is weird just because poetry is kind of an odd subject in that we're kind of taught in high school that we should be scared of it. And this book, it's a book that's written not necessarily for poets or academics, it's really written for Disney fans to appeal to them. So it's a much more fun read than we often think of when we think of the word poetry. So I look forward to getting this into the hands of a lot of Disney fans.

If you’d like to check out more of Matt Mason’s poem’s about Disneyland, you can order your copy of At The Corner of Fantasy And Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros directly from The Old Mill Press and from Here is one more example from the book, a poem about Matt’s memories from his first visit to Walt Disney’s “Happiest Place on Earth” in 1973.

Copyright Matt Mason/The Old Mill Press

Copyright Matt Mason/The Old Mill Press

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At the Corner of Fantasy and Main: Disneyland, Midlife, and Churros: Mason, Matt: