I’m beyond thrilled to share the news that my poem, “For My Aspirated”, has won Bellingham Review‘s 49th Parallel Award for Poetry. Here is the press release.
Poetry contests have often struck me as the longest shot there is in the literary world. I got into more poetry MFAs than fiction ones, but when I chose to attend a fiction one because it was where the most funding for the most time was offered to me, I figured that choice meant my poetry might never see the light of day, much less see publication, much less win any award.
But this one did. It’s my first year sending poetry out to contests. This poem is one I shepherded through its drafts without any outside input or readers, and luck of luck, the hook caught.
The poem itself grows out of a loss I experienced at the age of 25, when I was probably at my most unhappy and unmoored. At that very time, in the winter of 2009-10, Bruce Beasley’s work came into my life, specifically his book Lord Brain, a work that left me feeling not only less lonely in my chemically depressed state, but hopeful. Hopeful that attention to pain and compassion to the brain could yield art.
Or that it would, someday. Perhaps after a year…or four; the poem’s first draft was born in November 2013.
As I turned 30, I asked good friends for advice. A friend’s sister turned 27 and asked us for advice, and I repeated the best I’d heard. I’ll leave it below, as thanks and a prayer. As my friend Dane put it most succinctly: “relax into the unknowing.” How could I have known that the poet whose work saved my heart a little bit in its time of need, would choose a poem I wrote about that very heart’s need to be saved? What are the odds? If only my 25-year-old self knew. But my 30-year-old self does, and that, today, is certainly enough.
1. Be kind to yourself, especially when when old lessons come back in new clothing to make sure you’ve completely learned them. Be kind to yourself, on days when it seems you haven’t made any headway. Be kind to yourself on days when pain erupts into your life that you did a lot of work to never feel again.
2. Being open-hearted is a gift to the world. Being judicious about who you trust is a gift to yourself. Give yourself that gift, no matter how magnetically attractive someone is, or, conversely, in need of your pity someone purports to be.
3. Any comparison you do with anyone else is a comparison of your insides to their outsides. Do your best to avoid it.
4. It’s your job to know things you are good at and enjoy, and things you value. The rest will unfold as time unfolds.
5. A broken heart (about love, about work, about whatever) is an arrow to something so wondrous you could literally not have pictured it. My greatest peace of mind comes when I survey the tapestry of my past and recognize that the most amazing parts of it only materialized because I didn’t get what I wanted at the time. This doesn’t mean you’re required to love it when everything goes to shit. It means breathing through it.
6. You owe no one your misery. Not the toxic relationship or friend, and get this: not the nonprofit world or whatever it is either. If whatever admirable or noble thing you think you ought to do makes you sort of want to ball up and cry, it’s not your job to do it. And if it is your job, change jobs.
With gratitude, for all we know and all we don’t yet.