NEA Literature Fellowships

Sean Hill

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(2015 - Poetry)

"Postcard to Anna"

In Cairo I missed street pigeons; they were
not there at the open-air eatery where
I dined with Jasmine off Talaat Harb
when the morsel of macaroni missed
my mouth. I only saw pigeons on menus
and the backseat of a Peugeot in and atop
a sturdy-looking wooden cage because
the cage door was open. There were
no sparrows to clean up my mess either.
We found them on a menu a few days
later. The waiter hesitated, then translated
the Arabic for our table, and we said Yes,
we want sparrows. The hesitation at bones
holding up, resisting the jaw, my maw,
those bones for tendons to bind muscles
to and help buoy that tiny body above
the flow of folk with their sedentary
urban tendencies, a mouthful that came
with a people stopping by this river,
edged with papyrus that they beat flat
and dried brown to leave notes for each
other. They were delicious, those sparrows,
in their port wine sauce.

(From Dangerous Goods, Milkweed Editions, 2014. © 2014 Sean Hill. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions)

Born and raised in Milledgeville, Georgia, Sean Hill is the author of Dangerous Goods (Milkweed Editions, 2014) and Blood Ties & Brown Liquor (UGA Press, 2008). He's received numerous awards including fellowships from Cave Canem, the Region 2 Arts Council, the Bush Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, The Jerome Foundation, The MacDowell Colony, the University of Wisconsin, and a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. His poems have appeared in Callaloo, Harvard Review, The Oxford American, Poetry, Tin House, and numerous other journals, and in several anthologies including Black Nature and Villanelles. Hill is an editor at Broadsided Press, a monthly broadside publisher. He's currently a visiting professor in the creative writing program at UA-Fairbanks.

Photo by Sean Hill

Author's Statement

It's truly an honor to have my poetry recognized and supported by the NEA. My work explores, among other things, American history. This fellowship will provide support for the continuation of that work as I make headway on my third collection where I turn my attention and imagination to American history around the Civil War. I will focus especially on my hometown, Milledgeville, which was Georgia's Confederate capital. I've discovered that my poems are deepened by the unexpected details of everyday life that give texture to living in a specific time or place. These particulars are found in archival research. This fellowship means that I'll be able to afford to take research trips to archives and historical sites, so that I can more fully imagine the past. It will also grant me time to do the reading, writing, and revision necessary to produce this new project. I believe that literature, particularly poetry, fosters empathy because it asks the reader to relate to the poem's speaker and enter a new world. My hope is that my writing and ultimately the book that results from this activity will provide useful new worlds in which the past, the present, and possible futures intersect.