NEA Literature Fellowships

Amy Beeder

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(2015 - Poetry)

"Letter from Inmate 0709-609"

He wrote I recently read your poem in A Review &
wonder would you be willing to engage in occasional

correspondence regarding for example how vertigo
may grip you after memories of whiffle-ball & fall air

turned aromatic. I looked him up & his tale took shape:
that littered overgrown North Bank's smokestacks'

arcs of sulfur in the ozone, a bliss forever acid
& empty of suggestion. That filthy cathedral: a long-

abandoned shipyard where kids would go to smoke,
under its concrete pavilions, under graffiti & accidental
fountains a maze of interiors, feral splendor: a warren,
catacombs for what-you-will among left chemicals'

half-life seep . He wrote I humbly enclose a poem
of my own though regarding technique I know nothing

but would like to learn as who would not rather exist in
a bowl of painted fruit?  You know that passion is unruly:

set ablaze by fragrance or a blood moon breaching Holland
Tunnel.  In his poem there were radios & ermine, degrees

of translucence, troubles perceived as innumerable, wild
heifers, white sentiment & glitter & everything was really

the girl left in a rusted barrel hushed evermore in weeds
or coastal trash or catacombs & my spurious guilt

over the peculiar frisson in the details nevertheless will
not prevent me from telling you that the boys who finally

found her thought at first dog bones but then a sneaker.
Under each foundation there are many rooms, witnessed

by factory or dirty river, witnessed by the mistletoe
or whatever other bitter greens thrive even in the most

defiled soil. And now you dimly remember leaving your best purse on the subway. Money in it though the purse was a gift—

(First published in Kenyon Review Vol. XXXVII, No. 1, Jan/Feb 2015)

Amy Beeder is the author of Burn the Field (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006) and Now Make An Altar (2012). Her work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Nation, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, AGNI, and many other journals. She lives in Albuquerque and has taught poetry at the University of New Mexico and Taos Summer Writers Conference. A recipient of the "Discovery"/The Nation Award, a James Merrill Residence, a Bread Loaf Scholarship, and the Witness Emerging Writers Award, she has also worked as a legal writer, freelance reporter, political asylum specialist, high-school teacher in West Africa, and an election and human rights observer in Haiti and Suriname.

Photo by Tom Mellin

Author's Statement

I am working on my third book of poems and making forays into another genre, so I am naturally thrilled about the time given to me by this fellowship to focus on my writing. But as many recipients have said before me: the validation is just as important: emboldening, inspiring, and satisfying. I am very grateful for all this NEA award provides.