NEA Literature Fellowships

Joanna Goodman

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(2003 - Poetry)


Tell the truth: no key appeared in your mouth,
no sound like mum, which wouldn't help anyway.
Give me a word to get through the night.
Something spontaneous, fluid:
see the hand's unintended imprint on the shore,

fireworks dissolving into black sky-

       Try now. Ripple. Yes.
Put the two of us in a boat on the gray river;
keep rowing in a circle while on the hazy banks
clumps of grass swarm and echo the rhythm of words
we had once spoken: after this, mistake me for someone else.
Sleep no more. Wave. Wave. That's love enough.

Joanna Goodman was awarded the Iowa Poetry Prize for her first collection, Trace of One (University of Iowa Press, 2002). She is also a recipient of the "Discovery"/The Nation Prize from the 92nd Street Y and a Taylor Fellowship from the Kenyon Review's Writer's Workshop. Recent work by her has appeared in New Letters and Pool, and is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner and the Kenyon Review. She teaches in the English Program at Penn State Altoona.

Author's Statement

When I received the call from the NEA, I was sitting on the floor of my child's room pretending to be Mary Poppins. We had recently moved from New York City to a small town in Central Pennsylvania, and it was cold out. I remember, in the hours before the call came, feeling something that might resound with others - exalted and enlarged by my daughter's presence, yet disconcerted, too, by the sprawling, slow silence of the house. I'm sure I struggled, more than once that day, with the familiar question of how I would carve out the space to write while also holding down a full-time job and trying to be a full-time mother. Would I miss the boat on all three counts? How could I not? And then my life changed.

As much as I believe in believing in oneself, there's nothing like a sudden jolt of validation and faith from the NEA. I'll be spending my jolly holiday, this spring and summer, in my attic office, thanks to them, focusing.