NEA Literature Fellowships

Simone Muench

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(2013 - Poetry)

Wolf Cento

First frost blackens with a cloven hoof;
a woman's black stocking rises like smoke
leaving the land its architecture of withdrawal.
I heard the wolves scuffle & said:
You might as well let ugliness come.
Rosebush dead, orange trees dead.
The houses belonged to the dead.
Overgrown with reeds, the convulsive,
rheumatic shadows of men indifferent
to eating oranges. Evening descends:
a tired bird upon the smoky wet plain.
On either side of me the nights blacken,
only the track-covering slime of the fog shines.
Only a forest, perhaps, will think of me.
Ants build around the place left by my body.
The buzzard stops & becomes a star now.

[Melvin Tolson, Novica Tadić, Charles Wright, Allen Tate, Wen Yidou, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Johannes Bobrowski, Sándor Csoóri, Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, Nazim Hikmet, Czeslaw Milosz, Tomas Tranströmer]

(first published in ACM)

Simone Muench is the author of The Air Lost in Breathing (Helicon Nine, 2000), winner of the Marianne Moore Prize for Poetry; Lampblack & Ash (Sarabande, 2005) winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry; Orange Crush (Sarabande, 2010); Disappearing Address, co-written with Philip Jenks (BlazeVOX, 2010), and the forthcoming Wolf Centos (Sarabande, 2014). She is an editor for Sharkforum and chief faculty advisor for Jet Fuel Review. Some of her honors include two Illinois Arts Council Fellowships, two Vermont Studio Center Fellowships, a Lewis Faculty Scholar Award, UIC's Frederick Stern Award for Teaching, the 2012 Fall Black Lawrence Press Chapbook Award for Trace, and the PSA's Bright Lights Big Verse Award. She received her Ph.D from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is an associate professor at Lewis University where she teaches creative writing and film studies.

Photo by Richard Every

Author's Statement

One of the mundanities of humanity is self-doubt, and I am certainly not immune to feelings of inconsequentiality. The NEA, by valuing my project, provides an antidote of validation; and, equally significant, it affords me time, and "time" is something that I'm acutely aware of. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, while the Twin Towers were being destroyed, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that, at that period, was typically found in men over the age of 60; my doctors had never interacted with someone my age with this particular cancer. Faced not only with a severe disease, but my own singular insignificance in light of the nation's tragedy, the concept of "time" became nuanced in a way I had not previously acknowledged.

I felt stuck in a slow-motion drama, disembodied and watching the world as though I were submerged in some viscosity that weighted and braked my movement in the world; simultaneously, days accelerated and I became increasingly aware of the body's internal countdown toward its own demise.  I was incredibly fortunate in that chemo, radiation, acupuncture, and amazing friends pulled me through, and so for me the National Endowment's Fellowship represents "gravy," to use the well known word of the late Raymond Carver who survived ten years after his danse macabre with alcoholism before a final, fatal diagnosis of lung cancer: "I've had ten years longer than I or anyone / expected. Pure gravy. And don't forget it." I am ecstatic and grateful to the NEA for seeing worth in my project and for providing me with such immense support. I will not forget; instead, I will create.