This Sunday The Writer’s Center will host poets Eric Pankey and Brian Brodeur. Brodeur won the Akron Prize this year, and I asked him to share his thoughts on winning the prize to the WC blog’s readers. So here’s Brian:
When an interviewer recently asked if I’d thought the publication of my first book would change my life, I responded with one word: “No.” I then went on to express my gratitude for the trickling of e-mails I’d received from sympathetic strangers who wrote to tell me how much they’d enjoyed my book. How shocked I was that anyone had actually read it. Feeling a little guilty now for not being one-hundred percent honest, I’d like to revise my answer.
Yes! Like many poets actively submitting first-book manuscripts to contests and open-reading periods, I confess to hoping the book would change not only my life but the lives of every living person in the world. Why else write poems? Why else participate in an enterprise completely devoid of any promise of wealth or fame, an enterprise in which selling two thousand copies of a book constitutes “success,” or reading one’s work aloud to a crowd of one hundred at a local university for an honorarium enough to pay for a couple of beers after the event equates to “making it”?
Of course this ambition is impossibly naïve. Even if 375 million people on earth speak English as their first language, the percentage of those who read contemporary American poetry is only a fraction of that figure, and the percentage of that fraction interested in the work of a first-book poet is infinitesimal indeed. Yet we continue to assemble our slim volumes; publishers somehow find a way to publish them; and readers go on buying and reading them.
The whole prospect remains a mystery. When I received the phone call from Elton Glaser, former Akron Series in Poetry Editor, letting me know that Stephen Dunn had chosen my manuscript, Other Latitudes, as the winner of the 2007 Akron Prize, I was at work. I remember sweating through my socks and later asking my supervisor if I could leave early to go to the bar. Beyond the prize money, beyond the pleasure of seeing my book in print, that moment represented the culmination of the last five years, the time it took to compose the poems and to form a manuscript I wouldn’t be ashamed to submit for publication. At least temporarily, that phone call from Elton meant I wasn’t a complete failure, that my decision to dedicate my twenties to the art of poetry, while irresponsible, may not have been bat-shit crazy.
As Auden famously said, “poetry makes nothing happen.” Instead, “it survives, / a way of happening, a mouth.” However simplistic, this remains an important paradox. While poetry is a solitary art, composed in isolation and read alone, poems come alive only within the minds and bodies of readers. That’s part of the magic of all good writing. Until a reader responds to the text, words on a page are just that—words on a page.
For better or worse, the publication of my first book has calcified this hope that my poems can reach others, no matter how small the number. For me, this idea that my work could actually mean something to people I don’t know, keeps me rattling away at my keyboard.
About Brian Brodeur:
Brian Brodeur was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. His poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gettysburg Review, Margie, Meridian, New Orleans Review, Pleiades, River Styx, Smartish Pace, and the anthology Best New Poets 2005 (Samovar Press, 2005). Brian is the author of So the Night Cannot Go on without Us (2007), winner of the Fall 2006 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Contest. Other Latitudes is his first full-length collection.
The reading will be held at 2p.m. at The Writer’s Center.