Friday, September 30, 2011

2010 Discovery/Boston Review Prize

I'm going to start with some good contest/submission experiences. In 2010, I won a Discovery/Boston Review Prize. Receiving a prize always makes it a nice experience, admittedly, but I also like the purpose of this prize and the way it was run.

It used to be the Discovery/The Nation prize and it has a nice list of winners from its past- John Ashberry, Marilyn Hacker, Mark Strand, Katha Pollitt, and Mary Jo Salter were all through there at some point as winners and I know that's just a partial list. And that's it's purpose- to find good, emerging writers and put them in front of a slightly larger audience, give them a boost.

That's a huge help as an unknown poet. Having someone stamp you as "authentic" like it or not, helps other contests, residencies, and competitions take you more seriously. Whether that's the way it should be is a great question. But that's the way it is.

I also really liked the way it was run. There was no notice of who the judges were so you couldn't choose to enter because you had a connection with someone. And I think it really was blind judging, at least my year. They choose 4 each year out of between 800-1000 entries and I had no connection to any of the 4 folks. I suspect it was true for all 4 entrants, but I know I was pulled out simply because of what I submitted.

Even nicer was the treatment we got. We had a reading at the 92nd St. Y (exciting enough) and got put up at a swank Manhattan hotel down the street, the Hotel Wales, which even gave me a free upgrade to a suite. I bet the 92nd St. Y puts a lot of folks up there so they treated us very well. Before the reading we gathered at the Y and met the judges-  Nick Flynn, Susan Howe, and Claudia Rankine, as well as Timothy Donnelly who is the editor of the Boston Review, as well as the author of the outstanding The Cloud Corporation. Each winner got introduced by a judge.

And honestly, that was probably my favorite part. Nick Flynn had insightful, thoughtful, kind and accurate ideas about who I was as a writer. It's the first time I've ever had an introduction beyond "Tanya lives in Durham, blah blah blah." To hear someone talk about your work as if it were, well, real work, was so moving. That made me feel like a real poet more than hanging out backstage at the 92nd St. Y ever did. And it was a thrill to meet all 4 folks, but particularly Susan Howe, whose work and career I admire. We are very different kind of poets, but I love her work  and love the way she goes about her work.

And that's how they treated us. We may have been emerging, but they acted as if the work we did mattered, that our work was important, and that we, and our work, and poetry in general was to be treated seriously. It was beautiful. A contest I highly recommend entering.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I'm starting this blog to track the travels and life of my first poetry manuscript, Boyishly. (I'll also tell you what you should be watching on Instant Netflix- it's just a skill I have.) I finished the manuscript in at the end of August 2010 and have spent the last year sending it out to the big contests, particularly first book contests. So I'll try to write an entry about each place I sent it and note what happens/happened. But first, a little on why anyone would (a) write a book of poetry (b) attempt to get it published in this era of the poetry game.

I have spent the last year emerging as a poet on both coasts. In 2010, I won the Discovery/Boston Review award (used to be the Discovery/Nation award). In 2011, I was named a Lambda Fellow in poetry. I'll write more on winning each of these contests, what happened, and what they did for me soon, but for right now, I'll just note that both of these contests identify emerging voices in poetry. Winning the Discovery Prize gave me the idea I might be able to make it on something larger than the local stage; being named a Lambda Fellow helped me believe I had a book that was good, had an audience, and did important work.

But I also feel like I've now emerged on both coasts and have a viable manuscript that is ready for publication. And I'm ready to be a poet on a stage outside of North Carolina. But then there's the question of how to get there and in 2011, you get there via a contest. So in this blog, I'll track my experience of trying to be a poet through that path. Will it work? I don't know. Should it work? Maybe. The contest mode is horribly flawed and frankly, seldom brings out good poetry. What it does bring out is a lot of poetry that all sounds alike. And that alike doesn't sound like my poetry. So let's find out what it's like to be an emerging poet in 2011 in the U S of A.