NEA Literature Fellowships

Maxine Chernoff

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2013 - Poetry)

Drones

"Operators fly the planes from air-conditioned trailers thousands of miles from the war zone."

Porch lights appear--it is 1962 when the woman wearing a pink chemise retrieves the newspaper from her lawn.

We settle on news of our day, how video-games have turned deadly, how children have learned the ready skills of removal.

A book's pages blow from the middle to end to beginning. Nothing passes or ends.  Nothing claims the text's attention. Words float upward, launched by hands.

The usual mixed with the strange is the stuff of dreams, the stuff of waking to distinctions sharp as paper, soft as candles. Far beyond shadows, a light whose origin is mystery; a new sense of the word means death, sudden as music.

Maps suggest the land has no boundaries, countries no borders. Objects of interest move on a grid: men and women, cattle, and a stray goat with stone-colored eyes.

The ache of the past connects to the present--how doorbells used to ring and strangers call.  Fear was small and hovered on lips. Olives floated listlessly in drinks as people whispered local scandal in front rooms blue with information.

Surgeons of excision, men enact death's plans. Its subtlety knows no limits; outmanned and outmaneuvered, we practice remembering.

Maxine Chernoff is chair of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and longtime editor of the journal New American Writing. A poet, fiction writer, and translator, she was the 2009 winner of the PEN USA Translation Prize for her work in collaboration with Paul Hoover on The Selected Poems of Friedrich Hoelderlin (Omnidawn Press, 2008). Her collections of novels and short stories include Signs of Devotion (Simon and Schuster), which was a New York Times Notable Book of 1993, the novel American Heaven (Coffee House Press, 1996) and Some of Her Friends that Year: New and Selected Stories (Coffee House Press, 2002), both of which were finalists for the Northern California Book Award. She is the author of thirteen collections of poems including Without (Shearsman, 2012), To Be Read in the Dark (Omnidawn, 2011), and The Turning (Apogee Press, 2008). Her interests in the last three volumes are how the personal and political intersect and how one becomes attentive to both through their interplay in language. She has taught in Exeter, England, as a Visiting International Scholar in the Prague Summer Program, and in SLS's program in St. Petersburg, Russia. She has also read her poems in China, Belgium, Brazil, and Germany. Her work has been translated into many languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Romanian, Farsi, and Arabic. She is winner of a CLMP Editors' Award, a PEN Fiction Award, five Illinois Arts Council Fellowships, and many other prizes. Noted for writing prose poems, her new manuscript Here represents a return to that form.

Author's Statement

Receiving an NEA at this point in my career is a great honor and incentive. I am in the middle of a manuscript of poems that seek to revisit and expand upon my earlier work in the prose poem and see what results when instead of cutting back the line, as I have in my previous work, I have expanded the line by writing the longest sentences I can imagine, almost as a syntactic exercise in sentence-length and rhythms. This strategy has led to a variety of interesting results from political to personal poems that explore the meeting of public and private language and references. The fellowship will allow me to work with more focus and attention and the gift of time on this project, which was intensely significant to me to begin with but feels even more of a gift with support from the NEA.