NEA Literature Fellowships

francine j. harris

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2015 - Poetry)

"When the Sea Says Horses, it Says Horses? O, I make Horses. "

She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses. - Joy Harjo

I make horses out of flotsam and horses of oily condoms and horses of engine spatter
so horses mostly nasty, horses all confused. dizzy, spinning, impaled carousel

horses. unpainted, untagged horses. horses no one can use. I make
warped horses and hobby horses missing little horse handles. I make

a good shore horse. a fine wobbling, drunken horse. But mostly horses
with no hooves and horses too heavy to move. I used to make horses that could spit,

horses that could buck. But o now, I make thin horses. gaunt and worn horses.
Horses full of silt and gill. ground up, dusty sand horses. awash in empty saloon horses.

I make horses too frail to stand upright, and horses stuck inside horses.
I make machines of horse, and horse of brine, and horse necks with missing hides.
I make headless horses, tailless horses, with no limbs to kick and comb.

Horses? O, I make horses that fit into skulls of other horses. Horses
who can't lead blind horses. I make horses out of dreams of horses.

I make a horse without a rider. with no one snug inside the dimple of
her back. She clomps off into ossuaries, among all the horse hissheads

and horse haints. She's a banshee horse who nays at shore. a heavy
heaving horse torso who stomps and drags and tangles the shore

among the distended torsos of birds.

(Originally published in Sou'wester)

francine j. harris, published her first collection, allegiance in 2012. allegiance was a finalist for the 2013 Kate Tufts Discovery and PEN Open Book Award. This year, she also won the 2014 Boston Review Annual Poetry Prize. Her second book, play dead, is forthcoming from Alice James Books in Spring 2016. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Rattle, Ninth Letter, and Ploughshares, among others. Originally from Detroit, she has lived in several major cities across the country before moving back to Michigan, initially to her hometown Detroit. In 2011, she earned an MFA in Poetry and won a Zell Postgraduate Fellowship from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. A graduate of Cave Canem, harris has taught undergraduates and young people, and currently teaches creative writing at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Photo by francine harris

Author's Statement

There is a part of me that is still stunned by this award. Essentially, I think the award, quite simply, will alleviate a lot of financial stress. I am making modest plans for small trips in the summer to be near people who mean a lot to me and feed my writing life. Here I can devote time to the revision of my second book. But mostly, my plan is squirrel-like with this abundance of acorns. I've been reading articles about sudden wealth because according to a few of them, even someone making considerably more than I do who is suddenly awarded considerably less than I've just been given, can go into "money shock." I want, more than anything, to be careful.

As artists, I think we are terribly aware of the stress of knowing that we are, like many Americans, one crisis away from financial disaster. Professionally, we feel like we are riding the waves of political climate and at the whim of a mainstream fiduciary appreciation for what we do.

To have a foundation like the NEA invest this much in me as a writer is yes, a form of validation, but also a kind of affirmation that my life is viable. The path I've chosen is viable. This work I love can sustain me. Considering how much I try to reinforce this notion to my students—that if you have modest goals, an artist's life is possible—I can't begin to say how much this award means to me and the faith I have in this art. It also quite simply makes me ecstatic that the National Endowment of the Arts remains strong and sustainable. It feels so amazing to be part of this history.