NEA Literature Fellowships

Martha Ronk

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(2007 - Poetry)

"I cannot remember anything about this journey other than this" (from Vertigo)

A moment of inattention brought it all back as in the dream
it catches in your throat and you jerk back from the edge or
hear the cry from someone else although the scene is eerily
quiet almost everywhere. The more images I gathered from the past
the more unlikely it seemed that the past had actually happened
in this way or that, but rather one had pulled back from the edge
and for that moment it all came rushing in.
Events that might have happened otherwise play themselves out
in ways that begin to seem familiar as if the sentence itself
by the one word turned the stream as a jutting rock might do.
I see a man fishing and I see the line spooled out
over his head in beautiful figure eights as if I were practicing
my hand in the school my mother went to before I was born.

Martha Ronk is the author of several books, most recently, In a landscape of having to repeat, (PEN USA best poetry book, 2005), and Why/Why Not. Her forthcoming book, Vertigo, was selected by C.D. Wright for The National Poetry Series, and will be published by Coffeehouse Press. She is also the author of Displeasures of the Table, a memoir, State of Mind, Desire in LA and Eyetrouble. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals; selections from her recent work, Vertigo, have appeared in Volt, Interim, Radical Society, and APR. She has also published short fiction in Fence, The Harvard Review, Doubleroom, The Denver Quarterly, and American Letters and Commentary, untitled, Tantalum, and Hambone. She is the Irma and Jay Price Professor of English at Occidental College.

Photo courtesy of the author

Author's Statement

I am very grateful to the NEA for this grant, and am especially honored to have been chosen by a panel of other poets; one often feels isolated in writing, and this gives that expansive sense of others, of readers in the world out beyond one's own. The grant will allow me a semester away from teaching to move more fully into my next project. My book, Vertigo, just chosen for the National Poetry Series, focuses on compact poems about memory and its confusions. My new project moves in a quite different direction: poems that I hope will not only utilize the period language of Sir Thomas Browne's The Garden of Cyrus, but will also be more slowly paced and airy.

What I most hope for and am grateful for is quiet. My semester has just come to its full-speed, rushed end, and another is looming. But in the farther distance are months in which I can focus my attention, read, and try to think again about the nature of language, the shift from one century to another, the arduous pleasure of trying to construct "the baseless fabric of this vision" Prospero talks about in The Tempest.