NEA Literature Fellowships

Thom Satterlee

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(2009 - Poetry)

Burning Wyclif

Sometimes you have to raise the body up
to burn it down. So it was with Wyclif,
who rested forty-two years under chancel stone
condemned by the Papacy, protected by the Crown.
Finally, a bishop came with a few men,
spades, shovels, a horse and cart. By then,
not much was left of Wyclif--hair and skin gone,
his bones slipped out of place inside the simple alb
they'd buried him in. The bishop gathered what he could.
Beside the River Swift, he lit a pile of wood
and tossed the bones on one at a time,
cursing the heretic from limb to limb.
Afterwards, they shoveled ash into the water
and no one even thought the word martyr.

Thom Satterlee is the author of Burning Wyclif, chosen by Robert Fink for the 2006 Walt McDonald First-Book Poetry Series and published by Texas Tech University Press. This volume was also selected as a 2007 American Library Association Notable Book and as a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. He lives in Marion, Indiana, and teaches at nearby Taylor University.

Photo by Jim Garringer

Author's Statement

A friend of mine once described me as "an elitist snob with considerable status anxiety." He's a sociologist-so he knows his terms. And he really is a friend--despite the apparent put down. For me, receiving an NEA goes a long way in soothing my status anxiety woes. If I'm lucky and devout, they may even be behind me.

With the encouragement of this grant, I hope to write less anxiously about subjects that continue to fascinate me: philosophy, religion, language, and their many intersections. In my first published book of poems, I followed the life of the fourteenth-century theologian John Wyclif. Currently, I am working on a series related to a better known figure, Søren Kierkegaard. His writings have moved me since I was in my late teens (I am now 41), and I look forward to re-reading his books and writing what I hope will be a spiritual biography in verse.