NEA Literature Fellowships

Michelle Boisseau

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(2011 - Poetry)


I don't believe in ghosts though I've seen
milk-steam wandering a darkened room.

I don't believe a big mind regards
all sparrows though I admire the faithful,

how crossing a street or a continent
of trouble they seem confident and frank

as stars.  Cranky and cratered, I maneuver
like a moon of bright remarks.

In famous churches when the chanting
carries me into the showy moment–-

hoc est enim corpus meum–-the golden
rays lifted, bells shaken, incense tempest,

and I'm moved by what I don't believe,
I don't envy believers any more

than I envy beauty its ease, the ocean
its industry.  The sun its long and lonely life.

Michelle Boisseau's books of poems include A Sunday in God-Years (University of Arkansas Press, 2009); Trembling Air (Arkansas, 2003), a PEN USA finalist Understory, winner of the Morse Prize (Northeastern University Press, 1996); and No Private Life (Vanderbilt 1990). Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, The Hudson Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, The Yale Review, and Shenandoah. Her textbook Writing Poems, Longman et al., is going into its 8th edition. She has received two awards from The Poetry Society of America and was an NEA recipient in 1989. She is professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she is also an editor of BkMk Press.

Photo courtesy of Ms. Boisseau

Author's Statement

I like the fossil buried in the word "encouragement," how it gives heart to the faltering. Sometimes in writing, particularly in writing poems, you find yourself on the edge of a dry, whistling canyon. If there's a river below, it seems only an incoherent rumor of one, its refreshment doesn't reach far enough to touch you. Encouragement--and encouragement materially and spiritually--is the answering voice that responds to the poet's. You might have been on the brink of losing faith, afraid that all that you were hearing in response to your words were echoes of your own voice. Being awarding an NEA Fellowship right now in my life has been to hear the answering voice that says, "Keep going, keep going." I am deeply grateful for the fellowship first to give me some time to focus on my poems and, just as important to me, for the vote of confidence in my work expressed by the panel of fellow poets and other judges. Knowing that such decisions don't come lightly, that they come after Himalayas of work, I am humbled and encouraged and brimming with thanks.