Trips untaken... Books waiting to be read... Experiences not yet examined and reconstructed... Beyond being an enormous honor, my NEA fellowship represents pure potential, and that greatest possibility: the creation of poems I have not yet imagined, and of those that have been flickering, neglected, at the edges of my daily life. Released from some of the day-to-day stresses over how I'll pay the mortgage, I am free to follow my creative impulses wherever they take me, to explore new territories, and take new risks.
In the coming months, I hope to complete a poetry collection in progress, titled A Raft of Grief. I'll be focusing much of my energies on an extended sequence, "Travel Eclogues," a series of conversations between an increasingly estranged couple. The eclogues examine memory and loss, culpability and blame, and the storylines we create from our lives. I've been working on the poems in fits and starts, unable to dedicate the attention the characters require. The NEA's support will allow me to devote the necessary time to these and other poems. I'm incredibly grateful for it.
Bats in the Attic
By day, God how we hated them hanging there,
dry withered leaves with faces, a filthy mass
pissing and writhing in a crumpled hive.
We squirmed to watch them squirm beneath our stare.
But nights, nights we dragged chairs onto the grass.
A change had come to pass,
and as we watched their synchronized ascent
it seemed some lovely, hidden language meant
for us. They dipped and went,
and as we tracked them, bat by vanishing bat,
we wished that we were changeable like that.
Chelsea Rathburn's first full-length poetry collection, The Shifting Line, won the 2005 Richard Wilbur Award and was published by the University of Evansville Press. She is also the author of a chapbook, Unused Lines, from Aralia Press. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The Hudson Review, and other journals. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Arkansas. A native of Miami, she currently lives in Decatur, Georgia, with the poet James May.
Photo by Emmett Martin