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The Prize Is the Poem: Looking Back on a Year

Last April I attended the Little Grassy Literary Festival in Carbondale, IL. At dinner the night after I read for the Festival, I received an email telling me I’d won the Barnard Women Poets Prize. I ran outside so I could re-read the email and jump up and down in the parking lot. Sometimes the world gives you way, way more than you asked for. When my first book came out, I felt like a year almost wasn’t enough time to get ready to have a book. I didn’t know what a marketing questionnaire was until I received one, and I had no idea how to answer half the questions. The learning curve felt impossible. How does a writer set up readings? How do you get reviews? There’s a box of books under my bed; what do I do with them? This time the year between acceptance and publication felt like just enough time.

This past year I’ve gotten to do quite a few readings, give interviews, and get advanced reviews for the new book. Not only has going through the process of the first book helped me feel like I’ve got my feet on the ground with the second, but it’s also helped to be living in the same place for awhile. When my first book was accepted, I was living in my car. It’s hard to set up readings or create a community when I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping at night. This time around, one of the local poetry organizations is sponsoring my local release party, the town’s NPR station has featured me in an interview, and bookstores around the state have contacted me about giving readings. Having friends and a support network helps tremendously in life in general, but it also makes releasing a book into the world so much easier.

Every night my husband and I play Roses and Thorns. We ask each other what the best part of each other’s day has been, and what was the worst. I’ve been trying to think about what my Roses and Thorns are about the new book. Oddly enough, both the best and worst part about this past year and the experience of the second book have stemmed from the same issue. The best part about the book is that invitations to read or do interviews have introduced me to amazing people that I love having in my life, people who I’ve had great conversations with, who make me laugh and think and feel. The worst part is that it sometimes makes me feel isolated and lonely.

But I want to say more about the Rose, those people. I got to have coffee with one of those people who’s made my life funnier, more profound and more joyous, and who managed to do so in just a couple of conversations. I saw her this past week for coffee. We talked about writing, grad school, books, what success means and how to bear it. She said: “The prize is getting to write the poems,” and even though I already knew that was true, it was great to be reminded of it. As great as the last year has been, as much as I’ve enjoyed traveling and giving readings, no award will ever feel as good as writing feels when it’s going well. Although I have to amend the comment and say the prize is the poem and the friends that poem sometimes brings into your life.

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Traci Brimhall
Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She was the 2008-09 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral associate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow. Visit her website at http://www.tracibrimhall.com/
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