NEA Literature Fellowships

Adrienne Su

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(2007 - Poetry)


All winter, it is so enormous, you forget you're there,
yet so small you are unmistakable in it,
a classical figure halfway up a mountain.

Every morning is another riff on exile,
not miserable like Ovid's, but lonely like the cities
of adolescence, in which you keep getting lost

on the way to your life. Decades and miles
go out with the tide. You're back, turning down bargains,
locking keys in the house, mistaking beauty for love.

It begins to feel like a future, perpetually imminent.
Since you learned to drive, money's been pouring
out of your purse, while dogwoods like open hands

go unnoticed, azaleas on fire, white sun on pavement.
Someday you'll drive a worse car than your immigrant parents
ever had to be seen in, to pull up on this bar of sand

just so you might return to that unremarkable place
with the knowledge you wish you'd possessed
while surrounded by the hot-pink fragrance

of southern spring, tart fruit fallen from branches,
and those mysterious, dark-haired people from nowhere
whose arms encircled you, then sent you on your way.

Adrienne Su is the author of two books of poems, Middle Kingdom and Sanctuary. Born and raised in Atlanta, educated at Harvard and the University of Virginia, she has had residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, and The Frost Place in Franconia, NH. She is Associate Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

Photo courtesy of the author

Author's Statement

Because I prefer the daily to the exotic as subject matter, writing goes best for me when it's woven into everyday life, as a ritual that fits somewhere between making pancakes for my kids and preparing a class for college students. Ideally, there's a healthy balance between action and contemplation, the life keeping the writing relevant, the writing enriching the experience of being alive. But for most of us, despite our best efforts, the world of action tends to crowd out everything else.

The NEA fellowship has allowed me to establish that crucial balance. Not just the money but also the legitimacy conferred by the award have enabled me to temporarily lighten my teaching load, freeing up time to work on my manuscript, Having None of It, which is, not coincidentally, on the mixing of motherhood and professional life -- a combination that might otherwise have resulted in a long silence. Although the grant period has just begun, the difference has already been decisive. I'm vastly grateful for it.