NEA Literature Fellowships

Donald Platt

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(2011 - Poetry)


                        Joy is the jumbo           
purple balloon my daughter Eleanor blows her small lungfuls
                        of life into, and then

throws to me, her stupid father who has forgotten
                        how to laugh.
The game is not to let joy touch the ground but pass

                        it on to someone
else--I hit it with one loose fist across the room to Michael my brother
                        who at forty,

with one chromosome too many and lousy fine motor coordination,
                        can still catch the slow
thin-skinned balloon, chortle, jerk his head, as if whiplashed

                        in an invisible           
car crash, and toss it to our question-mark-backed father.
                        Dad can't remember
what day it is or where he lives, laughs and bats it on
                        to my mother
whose shatterproof face has crazed into a thousand

                        flaws.  Her pacemaker
needs a new battery, but she giggles and slaps
                        the balloon back
to me.  I'm grinning, then guffawing at our spasmodic
                        juggling act,
five people, three generations gyrating together, straining toward

                        a globe that glows
and floats over our heads, this weightless thing no more than a cubic foot
                        of breath, about to break.

(First published in the journal Crazyhorse, then reprinted on Verse Daily and in the author's collection My Father Says Grace)

Donald Platt is the author of four volumes of poetry: Dirt Angels (New Issues, 2009), My Father Says Grace (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), Cloud Atlas (Purdue University Press, 2002), and Fresh Peaches, Fireworks, & Guns (Purdue University Press, 1994). The Center for Book Arts published his chapbook Leap Second at the Turn of the Millennium (1999). His poems have appeared in many journals, including The New Republic, The Nation, Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, The Georgia Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, The Iowa Review, The Southwest Review, Western Humanities Review, and The Southern Review, as well as in The Best American Poetry 2000 and 2006 and The Pushcart Prize XXVII and XXIX (2003 and 2005 editions). He is a recipient of an earlier fellowship from the NEA, the Paumanok Poetry Prize, and the "Discovery"/The Nation Prize. A professor of English at Purdue University, he lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, with his wife, the poet Dana Roeser, and their two daughters.

Photo by John Underwood

Author's Statement

To receive a second fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts is an honor that means more than I can possibly cram into these few sentences. It means the leisure of some uninterrupted time to work on poems and projects that have been "in progress" for several years now. 

It will permit me to revise and fine-tune a fifth collection of mostly lyric poems tentatively titled Chartres in the Dark. I also hope to finish Rainboat Blues, a book-length sequence of poems that I've been working on for eight years and that narrates the early history of aviation, particularly the Black Flight Movement as exemplified by such pilots as Powell and Banning, along with images from the simultaneous development of jazz and from African-American history.

Though I am moved by this recognition for what I've written in the past, the award is, even more importantly, an inspiration. It inspires me to approach the proverbial blank page with all the love, terror, and sense of play I possess and see if the words can once again change me and stain the page in such a way that others too may see the world differently, more deeply, through those words.