Thursday, May 31, 2012

One day shootings, the next day a prize

OK, so maybe my prize isn't this big, but it's still a wonderful surprise to come home to on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Yesterday, a man came to my neighborhood after shooting five people and then when the police surrounded him, he put the gun to his head and shot himself. Schools were in lockdown and roads blocked. Yesterday, I didn't feel safe in my own back garden but today I'm a prize winner. How quickly life can change.

I need to wait a couple of weeks to announce the prize and I'm not trying to be coy -- but I so wanted to celebrate the opening of the envelope and that first word of the sentence: Congratulations ...

Last week I found the other kind of letter in my mailbox: I'm sorry to inform you that ...

One week a loser and the next a winner. I try to remember that these labels are external and have little to do with my poems and even less to do with who I am as a person. True that it's easier for me to remember this tonight than it was last week.



Maybe the real message here is that things change constantly. On bad days I tell myself that I just need to make it to the next morning, on good days I never want to go to sleep. Why do prizes matter? Because they make us (read me) feel honored. Because poets rarely receive much notice in the world (let alone prizes). Because a poetry prize gives me reason to keep pushing on even when my poems seem to be getting harder and harder to write. Because it feels like receiving a gold star from a favorite teacher. Because who doesn't want to feel appreciated?

Today in my English 101 class I asked my students how they would use their newly honed writing skills when our class finishes next week. Some said they would feel more confident posting on blogs, some said for their future nursing work, some said for Psych 100. But one young woman shyly said she wanted to someday write her first book. Yes, it all starts with recognition. I told her that first books are published everyday. Why not hers? Why not yours?

Millay Colony for the Arts

My very first awarded artist residency was the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, New York. It was for the month of February (an easier month to win a residency for sure) and I was called at the last minute as an alternate. And yet. A jury had deemed my work worthwhile (barely!) and I took that nod of recognition seriously. The poems I wrote here are collected in my first book, The Cartographer's Tongue - Poems of the World. But here's the thing: I had not yet even thought about publishing a book. I needed recognition first before my dreams could become more ambitious.

We're only human. Someone needs to care about our work in order for us to forge through dry spells and other barriers. I write my poems to please myself - but that includes wanting to please other readers - to play, to philosophize, to try and be wise. What better way to live a life than this?


7 comments:

  1. Congrats! And a lovely post..

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  2. Congrats on being a prize winner! I'm so curious about the award, but I think I can guess.

    Didn't realize the shooting was so close to your home. Glad it's over. Glad you're OK.

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  3. What a lovely post, Susan. Gently encouraging and sincere. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks, Drew; so glad you liked it. I hope you're enjoying and writing!

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  4. Thanks, January! The shootings were really scary. Buildings locked down and streets closed off. It's been a strange year for Seattle! THe prize isn't the one Kelli talked about last week. That was the one where my letter began with "unfortunately."

    I loved the video from Mass Poetry Festival -- gorgeous!

    Hope you are well!

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  5. Congratulations on the prize!I think it's really important to celebrate these things - as you say it means a lot to be recognised.
    I too had some good news this week about a story making it to a shortlist (maybe it won't win but at the moment this feels like prize enough.)As for the shooting it sounds horrific and scary, at times like these it's good that we have writing to console and nuture us.

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    1. Congratulations, Avril! Being shortlisted is a wonderful honor and you get to live in anticipation -- a lovely place to be. Thanks for writing!

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