Tuesday, September 20, 2011

MacArthur Dreaming

Ah, to be a MacArthur Fellow when the winds turn autumnal!

Yes, when I'm not dreaming of being a Supreme Court Justice or starring in the Broadway revival of Godspell (the only musical I'm sure I can sing), I dream of being a MacArthur Fellow.  Sure, I'd rather be a Nobel Laureate, but I assume that the competition for that prize is much stiffer--and writers who are U.S. citizens so rarely win.  So, yes, I'd be happy to win a MacArthur Fellowship.  I wouldn't even remind people more than once a day that it's also called a genius grant.

Today I was reading the list here, and thinking, wow, there's a lot of scientists on this list. Frankly, I'm not sure what some of these scientists are studying:  condensed matter physics and organometallic chemistry?  I'm reading and reading and thinking, c'mon, no writers of any kind?

Finally, I got to Kay Ryan's name.  And then, just before the end of the list, there it was:  A. E. Stallings.  What a thrill!

I've always loved these awards because of how wide-ranging they are (to see yearly lists, head here).  One year, an instrument maker is one of the Fellows.  One year, a deep sea explorer.  Every year, at least one writer or drama person is on the list, but often only one.

I find myself profoundly happy that Stallings won.  If my copy of her Archaic Smile was here, instead of at the office, I'd reread it this morning.  It's one of the more perfect volumes of poetry I've ever read.  There's a unity to it that many poets will never achieve.  Her skill with form, with rhythm, with meter--it takes my breath away.  Her deep understanding of mythology leaves me in awe.

I find myself thinking about one of my other favorite formalist poets, Catherine Tufariello, who loaned me her copy of Archaic Smile--after reading it, I immediately ordered it.  I was juggling a variety of adjunct jobs, but I loved it so much I bought it, even though it was only available in hardback.

I first knew Catherine when she came to work at a South Carolina community college where I worked.  Years later, when I was an adjunct at the University of Miami, I was told that my office mate would be Catherine Tufariello.  I thought, how many Catherine Tufariellos can there be in the world?  I left her a note on the desk we would share, but rarely at the same time, since that was how adjunct office assignments were made.  Yep, it was her!

We met weekly for lunch, and I'll remember it as one of those magical times, where we explored Miami and explored poetry and talked about our hopes.  Maybe it was magical because she knew fairly early on that she was only here for the school year--we knew we had to make the most of our time together.

At the time, Catherine worked almost exclusively in the formalist realm, and she inspired me to try my hand at formalist poems.  I'll never be as accomplished as Catherine or A. E. Stallings, but attempting those forms and meters has given me a new appreciation for poets who can make it look so effortless.

In honor the MacArthur Fellowship, I've ordered some books that I've had in the Amazon shopping cart for some time, as well as Stallings' second book, Hapax, which I don't have.  I ordered Tracy K. Smith's Life on Mars and Jessica Goodfellow's The Insomniac's Weather Report.  I know that Life on Mars has some science themes, and I'm expecting that Goodfellow's will too, based on her chapbook, A Pilgrim's Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (an amazing book--and that title!--don't you just weep for joy and envy?).  I also ordered Christine Valters Paintner's The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom.  I need some inspiration in that direction!

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