Saturday, February 15, 2014

I Won A Thing (time capsule edition)

Like most artists, I've led several lives. In one of those lives I went to a Great Books school that had gone co-ed only three years earlier. Columbia was my first choice only because it was in New York, and New York meant Balanchine, my aesthetic ideal.
Of course, what I found in New York, on and off campus, were worlds the suburbs hadn't prepared me for. Most of my goals turned out to be somebody else's, and the things I was running away from eventually caught up with me. So now nearly 25 years later I've won something, a sort of time capsule opening up onto awkward, confused me wandering around New York City in a fog. I used to show up for classes in leg warmers, my knapsack filled with toe shoes instead of books, carrying at least two cups of coffee. I'd fall asleep mid-lecture anyway, dazed from dancing all day, and no food. Somehow in all of this dancing and disillusionment I joined a club that seemed related to poetry, which was a thing I knew I was good at, or might be, if I could just finish reading The Cantos. Actually, I wasn't sure if I should be writing poetry at all, because so many of my professors insisted that women couldn't write, shouldn't write, shouldn't be admitted to an all-male school; and certainly that we shouldn't read books by women. I was very pink and girly, but decided that I was actually a man. Everything was dissonant. I just wanted to dance and be left alone; I wasn't eating enough to really focus on anything; and I believed I was that rogue wave, a female poet, but if I had to be a man to write, I would. All this to say it was startling and lovely to find out this week that I'd won an award from the club I joined years ago, which is called The Philolexian Society of Columbia University. And the award is for "Distinguished Literary Achievement." Which has also been given to Lydia Davis and John Hollander, among others. Hmmm. I got a C in one of my classes because the professor spent hours lecturing on Lolita and I knew he couldn't possibly understand.
design: Jamie Keenan
The place didn't speak to me back then, but in awarding me something the place is asking me to speak to it. Which I didn't have much opportunity to do back then. And so I'm grateful to have the chance to try now. I'm honored and happy to be recognized, to have a chance to reconcile that past self with current and future selves. Poetry, for me, has always taken precedence over identity; yet my search for beauty turned out to be my entrance to politics. I have to write an acceptance speech, something I've never done before, and maybe when I've given it I will post it here. It means something significant to be honored by an institution where back then I didn't feel wanted. It means someone is paying attention to the past and the present, holding them side-by-side. That's what I try to do in my work, plus throwing in future touches for risk. So thanks Philo, and Tom Vinciguerra, and hello to 2014. Also thanks to Brandi Wells for her insightful review of X Marks The Dress: A Registry in The Lit Pub; and stay tuned for a list of book signings and offsite readings at the 2014 AWP Conference in Seattle. Maybe I'll see you there. 

1 comment:

Heather said...

Congratulations and yes, please post. Your navigation skills make the way clearer for many of us.