NEA Literature Fellowships

Ashley Capps

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(2011 - Poetry)

Hymn for Two Choirs

Best apple I ever had was three o'clock
in the morning, somewhere outside

San Francisco, beach camping, stars holding

the sky together like sutures. I was thinking

how I was going to get old and ask myself

why did I only live for one thing;

at the same time I didn’t know how to change.

I thought I felt like my neighbor'’s huge dog--

every day stuffed into a small man’s green T-shirt

and chained to a stake in a yard of incongruous

white tulips. Here and there a red bird, a train.

Way down the beach other tents glowed orange.

I heard a stranger call my name

and another stranger, laughing, answered.

Ashley Capps received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2006. Her first book of poems, Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields, was chosen by Gerald Stern for the Akron Poetry Prize and was published in 2006. She lives in Bloomington, Illinois, where she is training as a prairie naturalist and working on her second manuscript of poems.

Photo by Gabriel Gudding

Author's Statement

I am trying to get more of the world into my poems, to find a useful balance between the I and the eye, to "see it feelingly," as Gloucester says to King Lear. I want to write poems that are acts of attention and perception, poems that reflect, as Heidegger put it, "the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all." The gift of time this fellowship affords has allowed me to undertake significant reading projects of texts that explore art's capacity to renew perception, and these readings feel crucial to my understanding of what I want my poems to do. 

During this time, I have also been thrilled to begin training as a naturalist, which has me out in the Illinois prairie studying the vascular systems of leaves, learning the histories of local soils, and identifying insects, birds, and plants. Impossible not to see things once you’ve taken the time to learn their names and unique characteristics. At my last lecture, we were introduced to the term biophilia--the love of all life, and life forms. This is important, our speaker said, because we save what we love. The love comes from forming relationships and connections with what we see. And the closer we look, the more we love. As Paul Klee wrote, "The object expands beyond its appearance by virtue of our knowledge of its inner workings."   

I’m immensely grateful to the NEA for their belief in my work, and for time to read, write, study, and look in a microscope.