I am filled with pride. Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the 2013 Literature Fellowships in poetry. Not one, not two, but three Black Lawrence Press poets were included! It is my honor and my pleasure to work with Lisa Fay Coutley, Shane McCrae, and David Rigsbee. I’ve asked each of them to write about receiving the fellowships and choose an accompanying poem. Enjoy!
Executive Editor, Black Lawrence Press
Lisa Fay Coutley
Recently a young creative writing student here at the University of Utah emailed me to say that he needed to interview a writer who’s met with success, and that he’d seen me read the week before and wondered if I’d be his subject. I blushed and laughed and asked myself if I’ve met with success. Most days I feel like I’ve just started down the road I’ll walk my whole life, and I feel at once that I should start running yet that I ought to wander and look around a while. Anyway, he asked me how and why I started writing, what I want to do with my writing, my goals for it — those basic questions that are often the most difficult to answer. Honestly, I have no plans for my writing, I told him, but I sure as hell hope that writing has some plans for me. It’s not something I do. It’s who I am.
Being awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts was one of the greatest phone calls of my life, truly. After I got off the phone I laughed for something like an hour, according to my fourteen-year-old son, who worried that I might have “lost it.” A call like that gives you some reassurance that the path you decided to walk blindly down—in the hopes that another human will hear something you’ve said and laugh, cry, discover with you—the path you’ve second guessed almost daily for a decade, was perhaps the right path after all. I feel fortunate and supported, and I’m eternally grateful for the worry-free time I’ll have next year to get back to doing what I love. Of course, my teenage boys are eternally grateful too. Now they can stop fighting over which one of them gets to eat next year. I joke, but really—this grant means so much to us. What a lovely gift.
All winter long my sons have pointed guns
in my face and with their mouths popped
the triggers. The oldest wants to spoon me.
The youngest wants to change his name
to the playground pimp. When we circle up
for dinner, I’m careful not to say chicken breast
or meatball or anything they can follow with
that’s what she said. Consider the going rate
for hormones, then picture an eager group
of eBay bidders. I joke, but someone should
tell these boys—in a wake of black mascara,
mothers drive away. All winter long I’ve left
feel-good Post-its on the bathroom mirror,
the espresso maker, the edge of my razor.
Every day, I’ve given myself reasons to stay.
The arts, including the literary arts, are the testament of our long national dream, and The NEA represents a robust public recognition of this fact. As such, the NEA is far from a taxpayer burden, as some would have it. In reality, it is a treasure that helps immeasurably in helping us know what it means to be American through works of the imagination. As for me, it means I will certainly now have time and means to write another collection. Whether the eventual book will have merited such support is another matter, but the book will come, thanks to the NEA, and someone will notice, thanks to its halo effect.
My father came to me in a dream
to walk with me around a stadium.
Not wearing the jaunty motley of his last months:
the patchwork newsboy cap and paneled shirt
he wore when tearing around town,
smoke streaming from the car window.
“I’m not gonna make it,” he said.
“This may be the last time.
I don’t have the breath for it.”
We cried and smiled all at once.
The apparition faded, and I lapped the spot
before I knew. That morning
I had stopped to take some pictures
of a new structure: a five-story globe
affixed to a museum headquarters.
It was Sunday, the crews were gone,
but the wooden scaffolding clung
to the girders, “North State Steel”
spray-painted on each rib.
I had come before the planks were taken away
like cross-hatching erased,
before the world was made,
the panels bolted in place and painted
that planetary blue of earth from space,
that pendant marble
on which everything is always lost
like a glass eye that never sees
what it never ceases to watch.
I’m both honored and humbled by the NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, and will be thankful for the rest of my life. Off the top of my head I could name dozens of writers more deserving than me who applied and weren’t as lucky this time around. I hope to use the time and peace of mind the fellowship will afford me to work to deserve it at least a little bit.
Essay on Self-Awareness
What draws me to I wonder grand-
mother what draws me to it to
Writing about you
now that my mind feels going different
How young were you
When you first felt a difference when
Words came out different
for the first time grand-
mother the first time it wasn’t that you
Couldn’t remember the name
but anything / About a face you knew
Face was the first face gone
Or did you not know anything was gone
until you saw the face
and everything was gone
How much of you was lost
In faces then
you knew but couldn’t name
And was that any did it feel
that you had loved and had been loved
grandmother that so much of you
was someone else