NEA Literature Fellowships

Cecilia Woloch

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2011 - Poetry)


And these are my vices:
impatience, bad temper, wine,
the more than occasional cigarette,
an almost unquenchable thirst to be kissed,
a hunger that isn't hunger
but something like fear, a staunching of dread
and a taste for bitter gossip
of those who've wronged me-- for bitterness--
and flirting with strangers and saying sweetheart
to children whose names I don't even know
and driving too fast and not being Buddhist
enough to let insects live in my house
or those cute little toy-like mice
whose soft gray bodies in sticky traps
I carry, lifeless, out to the trash
and that I sometimes prefer the company of a book
to a human being, and humming
and living inside my head
and how as a girl I trailed a slow-hipped aunt
at twilight across the lawn
and learned to catch fireflies in my hands,
to smear their sticky, still-pulsing flickering
onto my fingers and earlobes like jewels.

(from Capathia, Rochester: BOA Editions, 2009, permission courtesy of BOA Editions, Ltd.)

Cecilia Woloch is the author of five collections of poems, most recently Narcissus (2008), winner of the Tupelo Press Snowbound Series Chapbook Award; and Carpathia, published by BOA Editions in 2009.  She serves on the creative writing faculty at the University of Southern California and is founding director of the Paris Poetry Workshop. She has also conducted poetry workshops for thousands of children and young people throughout the United States and around the world, as well as workshops for senior citizens, inmates at a prison for the criminally insane, and residents at a shelter for homeless women. She spends part of each year traveling, and in recent years has divided her time between Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Shepherdsville, Kentucky; Paris, France; and a small village in the Carpathian mountains of southeastern Poland.

Photo by Theo Robinson

Author's Statement

It means validation, of course. It means that a panel of writers whose work I esteem thought well enough of my work to recognize it in this way. That kind of recognition is a boon in itself, and gives me greater confidence in the writing I'm doing now. Just as important is the gift of time the fellowship will allow me to give myself. I've been teaching full-time for many years; and, while I love teaching and feel fortunate to be able to make a living by teaching creative writing, at this point in my life I need more time for my own writing. I've been working for the past several years on a project that feels immense to me, a travel memoir that attempts to piece together a complex family history rooted in the borderlands of  Eastern Europe. I've traveled regularly to that part of the world for the past decade and done an enormous amount of research. I envision a book that will have a kind of hybrid shape, encompassing both prose and poetry; a "socio-political mystery" in addition to memoir and biography, because it explores my family's involvement in the labor movement and Communist Party in early 20th century America. The fellowship will allow me to take a half year away from teaching and other obligations to focus on compiling all the material I've written and shaping a first draft of the manuscript--something I don't feel I could do if I didn't have a sizable block of unfragmented time. I plan to retreat to a little wooden house in the Carpathian mountains next year, pile up a lot of dry kindling for the woodstove, and get seriously to work on the book I've wanted to write all my life.