I am still smiling to myself over the news of this award. The day before I received word, I had just handed over the final version of Big Muddy River of Stars to my editor at the University of Akron Press. I felt empty. And rather than celebrating, I kept beating myself up with questions like What will I do next? and How can I ever possibly do this again?
I never guessed it would be the NEA providing me the time and obligation to write. I have begun work on poems for a new book, probably something I would have talked myself out of doing before. Now I feel blessed to be able to try it. I'd like to go to a writer's conference, and take at least a semester off to write exclusively.
Every time I start a poem I feel like I am fumbling around in a dark closet in search of matching shoes. I am not in a writing group or a workshop, and I don't have anyone to read my work-only my shaky instincts to tell me where to start, where to let go. It's been so nice to have this whisper of encouragement to tell me that sometimes I get it right, especially from a panel of writers I so admire. Thank you.
"In Livingston Parish, Dreaming of Li Po"
Li Po, this is your invite to the Prop Stop,
a honky-tonk unreachable except by boat
where we'd tether to a buoy and then, barefoot
or in flip flops, tightrope across a rug of skiffs,
two weekenders not looking for trouble
but ready to battle any slurs the hicks unleash.
I keep samurai toothpicks and wine on hand,
though little news and nothing but wild company
brave the drawbridge to visit this distant post--
only a den of armadillos and dime-sized frogs
that answer to your moon. Once a man broke through
my yard with a wild turkey over his shoulder,
but he didn't stop to talk. I later heard he was
some houseboat squatter come ashore
who uprooted a doublewide, leaving behind
an acre of shipyard squalor, red clay getaway
and all. Which reminds me--lose the topknot
and wear an orange vest. It's bow season,
and I fear a wild pig, or worse, will discover
you sleeping off pink zinfandel in the palmettos.
Always travel at night, in a swarm of mist.
If you send word, I'll take the four-wheeler
and meet you at the property line.
Alison Pelegrin is the author of Big Muddy River of Stars, winner of the Akron Poetry Prize; as well as The Zydeco Tablets; and three prize-winning chapbooks, most recently Voodoo Lips and Squeezers. Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Poetry Daily and The Writer's Almanac. She earned an MFA from the University of Arkansas, and is the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Louisiana Division of the Arts. Presently teaching English at Southeastern Louisiana University, she lives in Mandeville, Louisiana with her husband, Bryan Davidson, and their two young sons, Ben and Sam.
Photo courtesy of the author