NEA Literature Fellowships

Rachel Contreni Flynn

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(2007 - Poetry)

"The Peril of Gooseberries"

The first lesson is to cut them open --
that way, a light syrup.  Otherwise,
bitter raisins.

I make preserves
as if stocking a bomb shelter,
as if I could starve

any minute.  I have my reasons: 
the lids boiling, that music, the risk
of scalding, the wax puck,

hardening.  It's the idea of danger
and containment, the cool press
of the basement, and the urgency

of standing in the dark
with hot jars in my arms.
It makes me think of fire

in a submarine:  that air, that screaming,
and the sub revealing
nothing -- just a cool oval loitering --

until the slow rise to the surface
and the lucky survivor
blinking in the light.

Rachel Contreni Flynn was born in Paris in 1969 and raised in a small farming town in Indiana. She got her BA from Indiana University in Bloomington where she majored in journalism and history. She received her MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College in 2001. Her first book, Ice, Mouth, Song, was selected by Stephen Dunn as the 2003 winner of the Dorset Prize. She has recorded her work for the Bloomington/Normal Public Radio station, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was featured as The Spoon River Review's Illinois Poet in 2005. She also received an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship. Flynn works at Fortune Brands, Inc., a Fortune 500 consumer products company. She teaches poetry courses and workshops occasionally, and lives in Mundelein, Illinois with her husband, Patrick, and their children, Grace and Noah.

Photo by Mary Jane Nealon

Author's Statement

Cobbling together a writing life alongside a busy family and day job life is sometimes invigorating, sometimes overwhelming.  I listen to recorded books and poetry lectures while commuting to work.  I read my drafts to my three-year-old over cheese sandwiches and cocoa ("Mommy, but why did you turn into a bird?").  Phrases and words on Post-it Notes speckle the house and car and are slowly filling a drawer at my office. 

When I got the call from the NEA about this Fellowship, I was at home with the baby who was battling an ear infection. I was feeling very distant from poetry, very removed from wild and wide-ranging talks I'd had with my writer friends, very rusty at sitting quietly and letting the language come. After I told Noah the amazing news in his good ear, we danced around a bit and then I began planning how best to purchase time with the generous grant. A house-cleaner. More child care. An artists' retreat. And then my husband came home, and we began the delicious work of making a list of books I'd been coveting for years.  

In these early months of the Fellowship period, I've been in a flurry of serious reading and writing, a real upswing in focus and purpose. The Fellowship creates urgency. It is a blessing and a kick in the pants. It turns a frazzled mother-poet-lawyer into a bird.