NEA Literature Fellowships

Beth Ann Fennelly

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(2003 - Poetry)

Poem Not to Be Read at Your Wedding

You ask me for a poem about love
in place of a wedding present, trying to save me
money. For three nights I've lain
under the glow-in-the-dark-stars I've stuck to the ceiling
over my bed. I've listened to the songs
of the galaxy. Well, Carmen, I would rather
give you your third set of steak knives
than tell you what I know. Let me find you
some other, store-bought present. Don't
make me warn you of stars, how they see us
from that distance as miniature and breakable
from the bride who tops the wedding cake
to the Mary on Pinto dashboards
holding her ripe, red heart in her hands.

Beth Ann Fennelly grew up in a suburb north of Chicago. She received her BA from the University of Notre Dame and her MFA from the University of Arkansas, then went to the University of Wisconsin as the recipient of the Diane Middlebrook Fellowship. She's currently an Assistant Professor of English at Ole Miss and lives in Oxford, MS, with her husband, fiction writer Tom Franklin, and their daughter, Claire.

Beth Ann is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Wood Award for Distinguished Writing from The Carolina Quarterly, a fellowship from Breadloaf, and residencies at the University of Arizona and MacDowell. Her poems have been published in TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, The Georgia Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The American Scholar, and Poetry Ireland Review; she was the New Voices feature of The Kenyon Review with a critical introduction by Robert Hass. Her poems have been reprinted in Best American Poetry 1996, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, and Poets of the New Century. Her first book, Open House, won The 2001 Kenyon Review Prize for Poetry, the GLCA New Writers Award, and was a Book Sense Top Ten Poetry Pick. Her second book, Tender Hooks, is forthcoming from W. W. Norton in April, 2004.

Author's Statement

When I got the phone call informing me that I had won an NEA, I was about half-way through my year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Mississippi. I already knew that I loved teaching at Ole Miss and living in Oxford, and I was hoping that, when the University did its tenure-track search, that they would consider me. I know winning the NEA helped me get the permanent job here that I had been desiring.

A few months later, I found out my second book, Tender Hooks, had been accepted by W. W. Norton. Although I usually spent the summers teaching, my financial pressures had been lifted because of the award, and I was able to forego summer school and concentrate my time on revising and refining the collection. I know Tender Hooks is better than it would have been if I had to pinch time to write off the edges of my days.

But it's not just for professional and financial reasons that I am gratified and blessed by the NEA grant; it's also given me tremendous confidence. When I gleaned the judges' names, I took much sustenance in thinking how those poets whom I've admired thought my work was worth encouraging. I am bolstered and blessed by their decision.