NEA Literature Fellowships

Sandra Meek

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(2011 - Poetry)

Acacia karroo Hayne (White Thorn)

Ivory monastery, you invite
retreat, your quills without ink, your needles
hollow; you are slow exhalations
of whistled breath, both cut
and seam, the noteless stems of music a girl
scores into her arms; you are the soul's
razored canister. Antennae
of many voices, you tune to the milky ships
of distant planets, your fray of ghosts
without waists, without wrists, a crystalline heart
slivered to fossil trails
of shooting stars; you are the desert's
drained hourglass, its whittled
vanishing, you are the bristling unlit incense of fog
and sea-froth, your liver-spotted sleeves
the stiff papery threads
of a petrified fountain, village cookfires' lingering veil 
honed to narrow vials, to spines of moonlight
echoing the body's
deepest wands, the cuneiform
of longing, how you avoided pain
by becoming its measure, your starved scepters clinging
to anyone passing.

(First published in Ecotone, 2010)

Sandra Meek has published three books of poems: the Dorset Prize-winning Biogeography (Tupelo Press, 2008), Burn (2005), and Nomadic Foundations (2002). Road Scatter, her fourth book of poems, is forthcoming from Persea Books in 2012. She also edited an anthology, Deep Travel: Contemporary American Poets Abroad (Ninebark Press, 2007), winner of an Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Agni, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, and Conjunctions, among others, and she has twice been awarded Georgia Author of the Year--in 2006 for Burn, and in 2003 for Nomadic Foundations, which was also awarded the Peace Corps Writers Award in Poetry. Meek served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, 1989-1991. She is a co-founding editor of Ninebark Press, director of the Georgia Poetry Circuit, poetry editor of the Phi Kappa Phi Forum, and professor of English, rhetoric, and writing at Berry College.

Photo by Paul O'Mara

Author's Statement

Twenty years ago, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Manyana, Botswana. In 2008 I returned to southern Africa for the first time since 1992; that reconnection marked a reawakening of my love for that place, and was the beginning of my current book project, An Ecology of Elsewhere. Having been granted a forthcoming sabbatical from my college to complete the drafting of this project, what will be my fifth book of poems, I had already planned on returning to southern Africa for further travel and research. Receiving an NEA Fellowship at this time means I now can afford to extend those travels and thus the scope of this project. It also means that I will have a bit of breathing room after this book is completed, that I will be freer to follow the next project's demands, wherever they may take me. While this economic support is vital, the value of receiving an NEA also goes deeper than logistics; having this validation of my work from the distinguished panel of gifted poets that the NEA assembled to award these fellowships is also an incredible morale booster and means my being able to go forth with renewed vigor. As a poet, I am extremely grateful for this fellowship and for the panel's endorsement of my work; as an American, I am very grateful for the NEA Creative Writing Fellowship program as a whole, for saying through this support that yes, we believe: poetry does matter.