September 09, 2007

Sunday, Sunday

Random aspects of loveliness: bought a handful of dahlias (pink and yellow) from the Farmer's Market, and from same market bought basil and heirloom tomatoes for the most basic of salads (slice, add salt and cracked pepper, dash of olive oil, enjoy). The peaches are ripe, the sun is shining, and the work I should be doing will just have to wait. Today is Adams Morgan Day, when my neighborhood celebrates...itself. Live music, craft vendors, and the usual siren call to buy large works of art which I have no room to hang in my apartment.

Also, a nice bit of (delayed) news--Doug Martin emailed to say that my poem "The Angels" (first featured in Coconut) will be in the anthology Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years, to be published by Snow*vigate Press. Yay!

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The experience of evaluating fellowship applications (being on "the other side," so to speak) was illuminating. I can't say anything about the winners or alternates yet--only that the people named are very deserving, but there were also some very deserving people who won't be named, and that's an intrinsic flaw of the process. All six panelists were deeply invested in poetry, and to have the shared vocabulary of 52 sets of poems (some up to 30 pages in length)--and to then speak freely about our opinions on the work--was wonderful, and made me miss working on a literary journal. We each had our own varying relationships to academia (thank goodness) and our unique aesthetic biases (thank goodness).

Poetry's a small world, and when you're limiting it to a single state, you're going to see a lot of familiar names. But that didn't have the consequences one might fear. No one got a free pass based on reputation; the work had to be fresh, thoughtful, and show an evolving philosophy. No one was struck down for gossipy or unfairly subjective reasons. Project proposals mattered, even if the proposal was simply finding a sincere and original way to say "I need the breathing room this money would allow me." In some cases, a poet I knew by name only turned out to write work I loved; in some cases, work I was prepared to love, hoping to love, fell terribly flat. In some cases I abstained from voting based on personal affiliation/affection, and was then thrilled to listen to the other panelists admire and engage with the work without my (biased) help. The best moments were "wow"s invoked by poets I had never heard of--a post-MFA student, or a 50something coming back to writing--where even if the work didn't merit a fellowship this time around, one had the sense of a sneak peek at someone who would be making a difference in poetry 5 years from now.

A couple of suggestions I would make, for future applicants:

-Be focused in your project proposal. Don't say you'll use the money to do 90 things. If you offer a thematic project proposal in your Artist Narrative ("a chapbook on X"), include work samples that speak to that proposal. It's okay to say you need the money to support the basic expenses of living, but don't come off like a martyr. We've all been there.

-Include recent work in the sample, and make it clear that it is recent (either on a cover page or in the Artist Narrative). Don't be afraid to submit LESS then the work sample maximum, which right now is an absurdly large 30 pages. Including weak work will hurt you.

-If you are applying to a grant-giving organization with regional ties, include parts of your CV that demonstrate a commitment to that region--local readings, visits to area high schools, etc. Sometimes people offer an abbreviated version of accomplishments (major prizes, books, and academic positions only). Brevity IS something which the panelists appreciated (especially after oh, the 37th application)...but when we're down to the splitting hairs of tough decisions, if you want a fellowship from Virginia we'd like to see that you are, in fact, invested in Virginia in some fundamental way.

One of the four we named is someone who writes INCREDIBLE poems, but whose career has had a stop-and-start quality, with few publications or public appearances. These fellowships are intended for both "established" and "emerging" poets, so the poet was able to compete against people far more accomplished (by the numbers) and still come out in the top four. I really hope the nod of the committee encourages this poet to push through, keep writing, get that first book done. Emerge, damn it! The world is waiting for you!

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Later today, I'll be reading (briefly) at the Iota Poetry Series:

6 PM (until 8) at Iota Club and Cafe
2832 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Virginia

All featured readers from the past year are invited to take part--should be a great lineup, so if you're in the neighborhood please stop on by.

4 comments:

carly said...

Farmer's Market, sigh! I'll be eating leftovers tonight :)

Don said...

You kicked ass at Iota. I liked your last poem, "Exit" -- a fitting end.

Oliver de la Paz said...

Good post on the fellowship stuff. Very true, what you say . . . as someone who's also been on "the other side."

Anne said...

These are good notes, and seem to be pretty much in agreement with what I observed when I sat in on an individual artist grant panel here in Indiana last spring. (My post about that is here, in case anyone's interested.)