NEA Literature Fellowships

Darin Ciccotelli

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(2017 - Poetry)

"Another Common Songbird"

Already the flippant
cardinal swims past,
and it is hard not to be bossed
by such color. Then dilettante
afternoon comes on.
Once more it has to regale
you with green gowns. This cardinal,
deposed king of your
attention, its name secondary
to how it fills the horizon with
speck red, undermining all
thought, unwrenching
summer. It is simply the bird
you know, having surveilled it
in children’s books.
Say that it is desperate, this bird.
Greasepaint at once seen and
disabling you from seeing.
What else is there?
You remember the time, driving
home in a rainstorm, that
you turned on Duval Street.
Nude women—six, maybe—
went galloping through
the road. The milk of your headlights
ran them over.  On their faces,
you could see desperation in
the prank. What else is a
rhododendron if not that?
What else is a raspberry? Summer
makes its defibrillated noise— locusts
bubbling like
a sieve in the air. So much
entertainment has been
loosed on the world. The cardinal is
known down to the last
minor flamboyance, its wings
burlapped, its wings iced
with beige. They mean nothing.

Darin Ciccotelli was born in southern New Jersey and has lived in Indiana, Florida, Texas and, most recently, Long Beach, California. He received his MFA from the Michener Center for Writers (at the University of Texas) and his PhD from the University of Houston.

His poems have appeared in Conjunctions, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Kenyon Review, Subtropics, and ZYZZYVA. In 2013, Brenda Shaughnessy selected his poem “Superpower” for the Best New Poets anthology. His first poetry manuscript, A Number of Dead Birds in Our Neighborhood, and for No Apparent Reason has been a finalist for several contests, including, most recently, the New Issues Prize in Poetry.

He currently teaches at Soka University of America and helps to edit the Journal of Creative Writing Studies.

Photo courtesy of Darin Ciccotelli

Author's Statement

Somewhere within the last seven years, I started to feel more like a professional teacher than a writer. I don’t mean to denigrate teaching at all. Moving to Southern California and starting a job at our small liberal arts college invigorated me—and continues to invigorate me—in ways I hadn’t imagined. But along the way, while I kept soldering together little poems, who I was as a writer and what I was trying to accomplish got lost.

Then something happened this past year. I continued to work on a manuscript that, from its earliest drafts, is at least ten years old. But I’ve also been obsessed with the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam for a long time, and, one morning, I just started writing my way through this obsession. Six months later, I had to figure out how to sustain two very different manuscripts simultaneously.

There’s something disproportionate about being a young writer in our culture. Many of us learn inside graduate programs how to cultivate a writing "voice." And we hope that the perpetuation of this new, singular voice will allow us to become more established as an artist. I haven’t really succeeded at this step. Instead, I’ve tinkered, I’ve tried out different aesthetics, and I’ve lost confidence in them. Eventually, I’ve ended up resetting the whole practice. And I’ve waited and waited (and am still waiting) to figure out how I’m supposed to sound as a poet.

Sure, I’m grateful for this fellowship because it has given me time, freedom, and a little dollop of recognition. More importantly, though, it has given me permission not to force the issue—not to whittle the poems down so that they fit some manufacture called voice. It’s a permission that makes me feel like a writer again.