Photos by Sofia Dell’Aquila

On September 29th, I had the opportunity to attend a live reading of Lora Mathis’ newest anthology, The Snakes Came Back, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla. A manifestation of the self through the past and the present, their poetry details personal experiences of love, trauma, and reflection. Local musician Matty Terrones joined forces with Mathis to fabricate an acoustic environment that perfectly complemented her writing. They worked together to plan a tour across the West Coast, hitting major cities like Berkeley, Portland, and Los Angeles.   

Lora Mathis has been active in the San Diego punk scene for years now, playing in multiple bands and aiding in community organizing. Born in Southern California, Mathis moved back and forth between San Diego and Montréal, an experience that’s highlighted throughout her poetry. As a multimedia artist, they’ve experimented heavily with sculpture, photography, and film mediums as a means to express and celebrate emotional vulnerability. One of her earlier works, titled Radical Softness as a Weapon, analyzes the process of healing within a capitalist, patriarchal landscape through poetry and photography. As a whole, their art captures the cinematic feelings of beauty, suffering, and the mundane. 

As a longtime friend and collaborator with Mathis, Terrones has been a core member of the local scene and a respected overall artist. He formed his band Neutral Shirt in 2016 after experimenting with different creative endeavors, with their first release being Dust on Your Shelf//Alone Today. I’d say their album Daisyworld (2020) is their most well known project and my personal favorite, fusing an indie-garage sound with inspiration from Terrones’ time in Philadelphia.

Photo by Sofia Dell’Aquila

At the MCASD, friends, family, and poetry enthusiasts poured into a dimly lit room with Mathis sitting patiently in the front. As the crowd stilled, a blue screen emerged behind her head as she pulled out a long scroll of paper containing her work. Backed by Terrones’ swelling, ambient soundscape, Mathis dove into her stories with a light and sensitive tone, reciting interactions with her grandmother along with intimate tales of self-growth and exploration. As a looping shot of a forest landscape projected in the background, the audience hung onto her every word and fully absorbed her sentimentality. Organic water sounds layered over Terrones’ music as the screen would cut to black and back to the loop, creating a soothing yet attentive environment. 

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the attention to detail and the curated atmosphere from these two artists. I’m grateful to have been able to experience this event, as I’ve never attended a live poetry reading before. As an artist myself, this has definitely pushed me to expand my reach into new art forms and explore different mediums. If you’re interested in independent poetry or the DIY San Diego scene, I would highly recommend checking out The Snakes Came Back.