So I won the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship for 2011-2012. Actually, I am one of two winners: the fabulously talented Spencer Reese is the second winner of this fellowship (making me even more excited and humbled by the award), and if he ever reads this, I'd like to offer him congratulations. Congrats, Spencer! For those of you who may be interested in the minutia of this award, having two winners of the award is historically unusual, though there was a precedent set for this as of last year's fellowship, which the poets Paula Bohince and Elizabeth Alexander won. Personally, I'm very glad they're giving this award to two poets at once now because once those of you who aren't poets find out what this fellowship entails, you might want to chew your own fingers off in a fit of despairing envy. Which is what I did many years ago when I first applied for this and didn't win and had to read the winner's name and think about all the great things he'd get to eat for a year. Anyhoo. For those of you who don't know about the award, here's the deal:
1. The winner(s) receive $53,000 from the Amy Lowell trust at Choate, Hall and Stewart.
2. The winner(s) must (MUST!) live outside the North American continent for one full year. (Canada and Mexico naturally being excluded, though the lawyers also suggested that Central America might also be a tad too close for legal liking. Other than that, anywhere. Antarctica, if that floats your boat. France. Lake Titicaca. Basically: Anywhere. You. Like.)
3. To earn this great and financial staggering privilege, the winner(s) must produce three poems at the end of the year. That's right, people: Three WHOLE poems. The brow sweats at the prospect.
You can imagine the barely concealed hysteria some of my scholarly colleagues experienced when I told them about this. If there was anyone among them who'd privately suspected that poets were the academy's pampered brats before, this news didn't exactly win over any hearts and minds.
That said, the constraints of the award, as minimal as they appear to be, are constraints. Imagine leaving your family, house, pets, and your job--possibly forever!--for a year. Imagine where you want to live and think about the amount of money you're being given. Now do some research about how much apartment rents are in this city. People have resigned from this fellowship because of these kinds of considerations, and one other (I've heard rumor of) has been stripped of the award because he never left the country at all. Probably because the idea of REALLY GOING ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD was so difficult to comprehend and grasp that no decision to leave could ever be made. I mean, really, every time a commercial comes on TV showing yet another fabulous foreign destination, you keep thinking to yourself, I could go there, and there, and there, and there, until your head practically cracks open from from quandariness. To misquote a beloved poet.
Still, let's be honest, these are some seriously bourgeois problems here. And if I've experienced them-even for a nanosecond-- it's my duty to suck it up, get on that plane, and go eat locally produced brie with all the good-looking, organically inclined people of France. Because if I don't go, they don't give it to some other poet. The award vanishes. No one but poor Spencer Reese (who likely doesn't have these concerns right now: he's already on his second bottle of Prosecco, laughing like a hyena about how awesome this all is) will have to go. And then I won't just be screwing myself, I'll be screwing over all the other people who applied and didn't get it.
And that's just not right.
(Don't worry: I know I sound like an utter ass. Even typing this up right now, I can't believe I'm writing these things out loud.)
So, that's the bragging part of this post. And while I'm doing that, let's just get that other thing you're thinking out of the way once and for all, the thing I'm sure at least one of you out there (like, maybe, my mother) is privately muttering: Why exactly did I get this award?
And here's the answer, dear reader: probably because you didn't apply. I don't say this at your expense. I certainly don't mean it in any snide or snarky way. I simply think it's true. I received this because someone the committee thought was better didn't apply. Before the economy crashed and I got to watch so many of my friends and students struggle and flail on the job market, I, too, mostly thought there was some correlation between wanting, hard work, and eventual success. Mostly, I still want to hope there is. But increasingly I have to admit that I'm at a loss to explain (to myself or my friends or students) why one of my friends or students gets an award or a book contract or a job and others don't. It feels increasingly arbitrary out there, and the luck of this award, the very parameters of this award, reinforce for me the blunt fact that, at the end of the day, more of this shit is luck than we'd feel comfortable admitting to ourselves, folks.
Which brings me to the "offering" part of this blog. Since I got lucky here, I'd like to offer a little of my luck up to you. I've mentioned to some friends that, though I can't take them along on all my travels next year (which will start September 1, 2011), and because I know many of them can't get the time or money together to visit me (though the offer always stands. Visit! Me! Please!), I'd like to offer my free services in Totally Vicarious Living. I'll post about what it's like to spend one whole year traveling the world, from the planning stages to the actual travel itself, occasionally offering myself up as willing test subject to my friends' and readers' whims: What, if you were in Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Paris, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Berlin, or Iceland, say, would you like to do? What would you like to see or eat, ride or buy, or what, perhaps, would you like to have done to your body (there will be some serious limitations to this last offering. I'm not coming back pregnant from some misspent orgy with 24 year-old Italian footballers ((though, really, is the word "misspent" truly the right word in that scenario?)), married ((again)), tattooed ((again)) or pierced in places that cause me to wince when sitting. And I hate massages. And pedicures. And Norwegians. Actually anything that involves having my feet touched by Norwegians. Though I liked Norway itself. Uff-da!). Besides all that, I'm open. If you want me to visit a particular museum, say, or eat a live squid or track down one of your ancestor's homes, I'm game. I'll even take pictures for you and write about it. And maybe, just maybe, this will make you a tiny bit happy.
Or maybe more pissed off at not getting to go yourself. Who knows. I still offer my services in the spirit of (self-involved) generosity.
On a side-note, one student has already suggested that, if I'm in Germany, I should rent a race car and drive the Nurburgring. I misheard her and thought she said Nuva Ring, at which point I told her I'd already been driving THAT for a very long time. But I was totally up for renting a race car!
Anyway, this is what this blog is going to be about. The Poetic Pessimist's World Domination Tour, shared with you, dear reader, who may just be my mother. If this is the case, ignore the crack about the Nuva Ring and the orgy with Italian footballers. And the Norwegians. I know how you feel about them. And the tattoos. I don't have those. Actually, I don't have them anymore--they recently disappeared under one of the folds of my burgeoning, middle-aged flesh. Let that offer you some comfort.