Matt Rasmussen ’98English Department Faculty
Posted on November 22nd, 2022 by

“Studying And Writing Literature Felt Superfluous Like a Hobby. At Gustavus, I Learned It Was My Passion.”

I was a hockey player jock in high school, and I wanted to play in college. When I applied to Gustavus, I included a poem in my application. I don’t know why. Maybe I thought I wasn’t smart enough to get in. I wanted to present myself as a Renaissance Man of sorts. I knew Gustavus had poets.

I wanted to be a computer science major. I took a J-term course in supercomputing and we had to simulate a triple pendulum. The math involved was so beyond me. But I was doing really well in poetry classes. I met poets Joyce Sutphen and Phil Bryant ’73 and John Rezmerski and Bill Holm ’65. Bill was so cool. I couldn’t believe it was him, in our classroom, just chatting with us!

But I was failing computer science. I got so behind and terrible at things that I just stopped going, thinking that would solve the problem. In hindsight, failing was a way to get on record that I didn’t like it. My parents saw being a poet as a side thing. But mostly it was in my own mind, this idea that I had to enter a field that was “promising.”

At Gustavus, something changed in me about writing and literature. I don’t know if I would have had that change if I didn’t have that close relationship with Phil and Joyce and Rez and Will Freiert. Their support continued even after I graduated. When I didn’t know if I would go to grad school for poetry, I contacted Phil and Joyce. And now I am teaching here, so it pretty much defines who I am.(Editor’s note: Rasmussen’s award-winning book of poetry, Black Aperture, was named a “Best Book of the Decade” by the Star Tribune. The independent poetry press he founded, Birds, LLC, is now in its 10th year. Its books have also received numerous awards.)

I see my First-Term Seminar students and they are like, I have to decide what I’m going to be for the rest of my life! I say, not really. Students who are having trouble at home, who are struggling with grades, feeling like they’re not motivated, sometimes they think of that as fatal to their lives. I tell them, stuff happens at college. I failed classes and I’m fine. I’m okay.


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