NEA Literature Fellowships

Ansel Elkins

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(2013 - Poetry)

Reverse: A Lynching

Return the tree, the moon, the naked man
Hanging from the indifferent branch
Return blood to his brain, breath to his heart
Reunite the neck with the bridge of his body
Untie the knot, undo the noose
Return the kicking feet to ground
Unwhisper the word jesus
Rejoin his penis with his loins
Resheathe the knife
Regird the calfskin belt through trouser loops
Refasten the brass buckle
Untangle the spitting men from the mob
Unsay the word nigger
Release the firer's finger from its trigger
Return the revolver to its quiet holster
Return the man to his home
Unwidow his wife
Unbreak the window
Unkiss the crucifix of her necklace
Unsay Hide the children in the back, his last words
Repeal the wild bell of his heart
Reseat his family at the table over supper
Relace their fingers in prayer, unbless the bread
Rescind the savagery of men
Return them from animal to human, reborn in the long run
Backward to the purring pickup
Reignite the Ford's engine, its burning headlights
Retreat down the dirt road, tires speeding
Backward into rising dust
Backward past cornfields, past the night floating moths
Rescind the whiskey from the guts
Unswallowed, unswigged, the tongue unstung
Rehouse the flask in the field coat's interior pocket
Unbare the teeth, unwhet the appetite
Return the howl to its wolf
Return the shovel to the barn, the rope to the horse's stable
Resurrect the dark from its heart housed in terror

Reenter the night through her door of mercy

(first appeared in Boston Review, 2011)

Ansel Elkins was born and raised in the Alabama foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her poems recently appeared in AGNI, The Believer, Best New Poets 2011, Boston Review, Ecotone, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, and others. She is the recipient of a 2011 "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Prize, the 2012 North American Review James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2012 Fugue Ron McFarland Prize for Poetry, and fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society and the North Carolina Arts Council. She received a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She lives in North Carolina.

Author's Statement

This fellowship comes just as I have completed a first collection of poems and am beginning work on a second manuscript. Much of my work explores the South as a complex place of racial violence and isolation, but also familial love. Growing up in rural Alabama as the daughter of two journalists shaped my vision and imagination as a writer. My father, a newspaper photographer, would carry me with him on his assignments when I was a girl. I swear he knew every unnamed county back road in the state of Alabama, and it was traveling with him—going to river baptisms, seeing mules grind sugarcane, meeting folk artists and fiddle carvers and tornado survivors—that made me want to write intimately about and out of the humanity of these people I met. The personas I inhabit in poems might seem strange and sometimes grotesque, and it can be hard to know if readers will find them as compelling as I do. The NEA Fellowship gives me the opportunity to take risks with poems that are about people on the edges of society. When I know that there are organizations like the NEA who support taking creative risks, it gives me the confidence that the risks are worth taking.

The NEA Fellowship will allow me the funds to travel, research, and write my second book. Most importantly, the fellowship gives me the encouragement to push on with adventurous new work. I am deeply grateful for this support.