NEA Literature Fellowships

Jeanann Verlee

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(2017 - Poetry)

"Meditation on a Poem about Glass Embedded in the Scalp after a Car Accident"

“You live through all of it, the impact,
The moment absorbed in the body”

         —Luke Bauerlein

The poet writes about shards,
      how his body kept them, skin

grew over and eventually released
      the bits back into the world, something

foreign and useless, and I am
      familiar with the effect, having

picked the itchy glass of a Nissan
      from my own elbow as a child,

a full year after the Lincoln sped head-on
      into our lane, and it isn’t very

different, or different at all,
      from how I wake at 3:06 a.m.

every day though it’s been
      over three years and his shadow

still rides the length of my body
      as if it now belongs to me, how

my skin took in and grew over
      his violence and now spits it back

out in small fragments each time
      a man stands too close on the subway.

(originally appeared in Muzzle Magazine)

Jeanann Verlee is the author of two books, Said the Manic to the Muse (Write Bloody Publishing, 2015) and Racing Hummingbirds (2010), which was awarded a silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Her third collection, prey, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2018. She is a recipient of the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry, and her work appears in Adroit, The Journal, Rattle, and Yemassee, among others. Verlee has served as poetry editor for various publications, including Union Station Magazine and Winter Tangerine Review: Fragments of Persephone, in addition to editing a number of individual collections. For seven years, she was director of the Urbana Poetry Slam reading series at Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. Verlee collects tattoos and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you. Find her at jeanannverlee.com.

Photo by A. Pavhk

Author's Statement

To be awarded an NEA fellowship is staggering. I am currently finalizing my third poetry manuscript, which focuses on trauma and survival of emotional and sexual predation, while simultaneously continuing my work writing toward mental health issues. That my poetry has been deemed impactful and promising enough to support is unbelievably affirming. Daunting, however, is the expectation this award poses: to continue evolving.

When I spoke to my father about this honor, he reminisced about how, as a young child, I would share elaborate stories I had contrived (often wearing pieced-together costumes). He posited that I’ve been working toward this my entire life. I consider the many shelves of notebooks I’ve filled since; the decade I stopped writing and the lies I told myself to allay my shame; the communities across the US, namely within New York City, who welcomed me when I resurrected my pursuit of poetry; the partners who preferred me silent; the partners who sought to share credit for my work; the peers who consider me undeserving; the miles of rejections; all the times I refused to stay fallen. Each is a milestone. And now? I keep working.

Financially—as one who has lived paycheck-to-paycheck throughout her working life, who grew up knowing the strain on a family wavering between working class and poverty, familiar with words like “foreclosure,” “pawn,” and “hand-me-down” at an early age—I am utterly overwhelmed by this grant. This will allow me to address both healthcare and practical needs that have long gone neglected, and to facilitate my career through travel, research, editing, and above all—by offering relief from constant financial anxiety—an unburdened mental space for writing. My gratitude to the NEA panel is immeasurable.