Miscellaneous Notes Winter 2010-2011

by Simeon Berry

Zacharis Award

Ploughshares is pleased to present Julia Story with the twentieth annual John C. Zacharis First Book Award for her prose poetry collection Post Moxie: Poems (Sarabande Books, 2010). The $1,500 award, which is named after Emerson College’s former president, honors the best debut book by a Ploughshares writer, alternating annually between poetry and fiction.

This year’s judge was John Skoyles, Ploughshares’ poetry editor. In choosing the collection, Skoyles said:“In Post Moxie,Julia Story captures not only a life but a universe. She tells a tale through hints and echoes, resonance and clue. Phrase by phrase, the collection takes the reader in and out of the speaker’s world. The accomplishment of this book is that it is disjointed and yet whole; fractured yet complete. Post Moxie is full of stunning surprises in language, perception, and thought.”

About Julia Story

Janet Burroway said that “Anecdote is anguish recollected in tranquility,” and Post Moxie’s paragraphic stanzas partake of all three qualities. In her early career, Story saw the prose poem as “the nerdy cousin of more traditional forms,” and liked the rebelliousness of it.

She considers herself an Iowan, but went to high school in West Lafayette, Indiana, which was “a poisonous place, full of jocks and mean, mean people, and I had a bad attitude about it.” Even with piano and art classes at the local museum, Story observes that small-town Indiana high schools “are not good places for creative people.”

Although she excelled in the subjects that interested her, she was, she recalls, “kind of a mediocre student,” remembering in particular, a terrible performance in a college “Biology of the Brain” class.

A Masters in English/Creative Writing program at the University of New Hampshire was followed by an MFA at Indiana University, and although she “wasn’t crazy about workshops,” she met other writers who are still her closest friends and read her work tirelessly, listening to her “plights and gripes on the phone for hours.”

At New Hampshire and Indiana, she started to receive a lot of attention for her writing and could see that she was “probably going to have a career as a poet.”

In contrast to five fruitless years of sending out her first manuscript, Post Moxie was written in under two years and taken by Sarabande immediately. The nice thing about being a poet, she says, is “I’ll always be unknown to most people, even if I have some success in the little poetry world.”

During college, she learned that she could make more money waitressing than temping, and though she considers herself very organized and good at office work, she also feels that “it kills my soul to help other people with their work at the expense of my own creative life.” She misses teaching creative writing, but says, “it’s the best way for me to be a writer.” She hopes to move with her partner to his house in rural England and try to “live off-grid as much as possible.”

When asked if she has any writing anxieties, Story replies that she has “so many anxieties that I’m trying to integrate into my life, rather than fight off. One is the notion that there is a right way to do everything. That comes from my religious upbringing. Another is that I’ll never be understood.” Post Moxie isn’t about wisdom, she says, but the “depiction of a struggle. It’s confusing and circuitous, but it’s good for me. I’m starting to learn that no one understands anyone else and that’s fine. I have other priorities now besides being understood.”

 

—Simeon Berry lives in Boston, where he is an Associate Editor for Ploughshares. He has won a Career Chapter Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters and a Massachusetts Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant. New work is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, 5 am, Notre Dame Review, Hotel Amerika, Blackbird, and Sentence.

Copyright © Simeon Berry


Winter 2010-11 Cover
Poetry & Fiction
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Guest-edited by:
Terrance Hayes
Terrance Hayes