Prizes & Awards

It's that time of year, when most of us want to hide under a pillow until the announcements of Pushcart Prize nominations are over. Or we want to get badges made to wear even on our pajamas: "Award Nominee" -- though of course some wiseass could quip, "Yeah, they hand those out with Pez dispensers." Sour grapes!

A nomination for any literary award is an occasion for celebration, if only because poetry and literature need all the press they can get. Compared to movies and musical albums, litmags and poetry collections are almost nonexistent, as far as the media is concerned. We might not actually exist in some parts of the country.

But I can't ignore the fact that, happy as I am for the winners and nominees, it makes me feel bad not to win or even be nominated for anything. And that leads me to ask myself why I'm bringing a soccer mentality to the practice of an art form.

I do recognize that I, like all writers, have human frailties. But in the silence of my room, with pen poised above the blank line -- performing a quintessentially non-human act of creating -- why am I much concerend about the world's clamor? Don't I know why I'm writing poetry? Here in this room, I'm not thinking of the Pushcart Prize or the Best American Poetry series. Not in that altered, channeling-the-muse state I court when I do this odd thing of writing poetry.

In a recent interview in Poetry Flash, award-winning poet Kay Ryan discussed the tension and dichotomy between the working poet's outer and inner worlds. It was an interesting interview, as Ryan has been a notorious non-participant in po-biz. She states categorically that her isolation enhances her writing, and that not being recognized early in any way, let alone a prize-winning way, helped her develop as a poet.

I've noticed that many of my favorite writers are noted recluses: Annie Dillard, Kay Ryan, Mary Oliver. Many are women who write in a way that isn't currently fashionable. I guess that tells me something about my own esthetic and best practice. Maybe I need more time away from the outer world's imperatives to truly discover what it is I'm writing.