NEA Literature Fellowships

Patrick Phillips

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(2009 - Poetry)


After the biopsy,
after the bonescan,
after the consult and the crying,

for a few hours no one could find them,
not even my sister,
because it turns out

they'd gone to the movies.
Something tragic was playing,
something epic,

and so they went to the comedy
with their popcorn
and their cokes--

the old wife whispering everything twice,
the old husband
cupping a palm to his ear,

as the late sun lit up an orchard
behind the strip mall,
and they sat in the dark holding hands.

Patrick Phillips' first book, Chattahoochee, received the 2005 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and his second collection, Boy, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2008. His poems have appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, New England Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He has received support from the Yaddo and MacDowell Colonies, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the U.S. Fulbright Commission, and his translations of the Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt received the 2008 Translation Prize of the American-Scandinavian Foundation. He teaches at Drew University.

Photo by Peter Dant

Author's Statement

The NEA is in so many ways a gift: of financial support, of time off from teaching, and above all the gift of an uninterrupted stretch of months in which I can enter, each day, the heaven of work at my desk.

During a few residencies at writer's colonies, I have learned firsthand how the work comes to life when it is given not just occasional, but sustained, daily attention. So for me the NEA represents a chance not only to write more poems, but also, hopefully, to write even more vital ones, and to delve more deeply into the mysteries that send me to the page in the first place.

The vote of confidence from the NEA judges is also a gift, of course, and I doubt I will ever stop returning to the memory of that phone call from Dana Gioia. To write poems at this time, and in this country, is to wonder constantly who is listening, and whether any of it matters. I am indebted to the NEA for the time and the financial support, but especially for its simple, benevolent message to writers: Keep going.