NEA Literature Fellowships

Alexandra Teague

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(2011 - Poetry)

Adjectives of Order

That summer, she had a student who was obsessed
with the order of adjectives. A soldier in the South
Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when

Saigon fell. He wanted to know why the order
could not be altered. The sweltering city streets shook
with rockets and helicopters. The city sweltering

streets. On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard,
she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread
from the oven. City is essential to streets as homemade

is essential to bread. He copied this down, but
he wanted to know if his brothers were lost before
older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern

downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern.
When he first arrived, he did not know enough English
to order a sandwich. He asked her to explain each part

of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic
leather Bible. Evaluation before size. Age before color.
Nationality before religion. Time before length. Adding

and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal.
After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years
of torture. Nine and long. He knew no other way to say this.

(From Martial Geography by Alexandra Teague. © 2010 by Alexandra Teague. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York)

Alexandra Teague grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, and has also lived in Texas, Missouri, Florida, Montana, Hawaii, and California. She received her B.A. from Southwest Missouri State University, her M.F.A. from University of Florida, and a 2006-08 Stegner Fellowship from Stanford. Her first book of poetry, Mortal Geography, won the Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and was published by Persea Books in April 2010. Her work has also appeared, or is forthcoming, in Best New Poets 2008, Best American Poetry 2009, and The Yale Anthology of Younger American Poetry, as well as journals including The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, and New England Review. She has taught composition, literature, grammar, and creative writing at schools including University of Miami, City College of San Francisco, Stanford, and most recently, University of Arkansas, where she was a Visiting Professor of Poetry.

Photo by Dylan Champagne

Author's Statement

I've been writing poetry for about eighteen years-part of that time as a student, but most of it as a college instructor. I love teaching-composition, grammar, poetry, reading, literature-but I also find that planning classes and commenting on others' work take most of my time and creative energy. My first book, Mortal Geography, which evolved over five states and more than ten years, only came together as a cohesive manuscript thanks to the wonderful gift of Stegner Fellowship from 2006-08. Since then, I've returned to teaching, and have begun a series of poems that I'm hoping will evolve into my next manuscript. Based on research, and revolving around the conflicting legends concerning Sarah Winchester and the 6-acre house she constructed in California, as well Winchester guns and other related history, this next project is exciting and daunting and, I think, deserving of focused attention. This NEA grant comes at a truly amazing time-as I was ending a semester as a Visiting Professor of Poetry at University of Arkansas, and was about to return to my hectic Bay Area schedule. I am deeply honored by this vote of confidence, and grateful for this grant, which is allowing me to take the spring and summer off to focus on researching and writing. Since I know that the arts (and perhaps poetry particularly) aren't always a societal priority, I am extremely grateful that the NEA continues to make this sort of work possible for poets.