NEA Literature Fellowships

Sandra Beasley

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(2015 - Poetry)

The Traveler's Vade Mecum, Line #907:
"The Exhibition Was Very Beautiful"

The exhibition opened on a rainy Thursday, with cello suite.
They hung the paintings to be viewed from both front and back.
Luna moths flapped their great green sail-wings.
Stingrays flapped their great gray sail-wings.
Those visiting the exhibition were encouraged to touch.
Captions were available in Braille and audio.
The exhibition tasted like cherries.
A critic asked if the exhibition was a "facile juxtaposition of ideals."
The mother of the exhibition calls constantly and the father, never.
The exhibition has taken to pouring a little scotch in the coffee.
When designing layout, remember
it is crucial how a bias cut fits at the exhibition's hips
and foot traffic turns to the right, not the left.
They hung the sculptures to be viewed from both above and below.
They painted the walls a shade of "eggshell, minus calcium."
The exhibition did not consider itself an exhibitionist
until the incident at the east window.
The exhibition is very sorry and will refund upon request.
Stingrays flapped their great gray sail-wings.
Luna moths flapped their great green sail-wings.
No matter how short a trip, the exhibition packs two pairs of shoes.
The exhibition never knows when it is going home again.

(From Count the Waves by Sandra Beasley. Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Beasley. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.)

Sandra Beasley is the author of Count the Waves; I Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; and Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize. Her memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, doubles as a cultural history of food allergy. Previous honors for her work include the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize; distinguished-writer residencies at Cornell College, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and the University of Mississippi; two DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Artist Fellowships; and the Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. Her prose has appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post Magazine.

Beasley lives in Washington, D.C., where she coordinates events for the Arts Club of Washington. She teaches with the University of Tampa's low-residency MFA program in creative writing. Find her online at and @SandraBeasley.

Photo by Matthew Worden

Author's Statement

I was driving home when I heard the voicemail from the NEA's offices. I called from the parking lot, too anxious to wait until I got inside. Then I sat in my car for another half-hour.

I could tell you these poems are from Count the Waves, which has been in the making since 2005; a collection that feels harder and stranger, therefore stronger, than any previous book. The committee's confidence in these poems means the world to me. I could tell you that I showed up at my husband's studio that night with two small bottles of champagne in hand, favors left over from our May wedding.

How does anyone grasp such a windfall? We think in terms of the trips we can now afford, or jobs we can opt not to take. Whatever monetary terms we answer in, what we're really seeking is the same dividend: time.

In 2013, one of the recipients of this fellowship was Jake Adam York. For a month he knew he had been recognized, even if the rest of us didn't know it—yet. By December, when we knew to toast him, he was gone. He was one of the most talented poets I ever met.

The truth is that nothing guarantees time, not even a generous grant. I say that not to cheapen my gratitude, but to deepen it. What the National Endowment for the Arts does, with this program, is create a dialogue in contemporary American poetry. Not THE dialogue (there are many others, equally important), but A dialogue. For the rest of my days, I'll be trying to hold up my end of the conversation.