26 June 2012

Navigating "Autogeography"

So, you know those stories you read about where someone gets a phone call telling them they've won something, and the person doesn't believe it, or thinks it must be a practical joke? Yeah, well....now it's happened to me.
Cover of the draft manuscript

I was VERY humbled and honored to find out yesterday that my manuscript, Autogeography, was chosen for this year's Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize. I still don't quite believe it, and expected to wake up today discovering that it all had been a hallucination. (It also didn't help that it was my birthday!)

But now there's a press release and everything, so I guess it must be true!:)

I want to thank the judges, Parneshia Jones and Janice Harrington, for selecting my work, and everyone who helped me to pull what started life as a wild hairy mess of pages together into something like a coherent text - or as close to coherent as I can get, anyway. This is, in fact Autogeography 2.5as I've said to a few people, I put the manuscript together, sent it out for folks to critique, then about six months later decided to rework the whole thing, as I was no longer happy with it. After some cutting, reshuffling, and various other forms of revision short of tossing it in the air and letting the pages organize themselves on the floor, I had something I felt a little better about. The odd thing is, however, I was looking at it AGAIN over the weekend, thinking, "Hmm....This one, I don't know...Maybe I should....."

"A poem is never finished, only abandoned." - Paul Valery (In my case, that goes for books as well!)

The press release is below, and after that, one of the poems mentioned by Janice Harrington.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


Cave Canem and Northwestern University Press are pleased to announce that Reginald M. Harris has been awarded the 2012 Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize for his manuscript Autogeography, selected by judges Janice Harrington and Parneshia Jones, and slated for release in summer 2013. This second-book award for African American poets, offered every other year, celebrates and publishes works of lasting cultural value and literary excellence. In addition to publication by Northwestern University Press, the recipient receives $1,000. About AutogeographyJanice Harrington writes:

Auto meaning self or same, and Geography meaning earth writing. In Autogeography, Harris explores the geographies that have written his identity as an African American and as a gay male. His stylistically diverse collection is personal, contemporary, marked by the rhythms of African American music, inventive, and filled with a disarming wit. In ‘The Poet Behind the Wheel,’ Harris writes of the poet: ‘Do NOT let him drive you: / Buckle up and hours later / Who knows where you’ll arrive’—advice readers will be happy to ignore as Autogeography travels through a landscape of personal lyrics, descriptive portraits, and historical witness.  This is poetry that wants to speak to readers and not above them.  He walks the streets you walk, sees the people you see, feels—especially in ‘The Lost Boys: A Requiem’— the same heart-breaking despair over the plight of African American males (drugs, violence, AIDS, urban ruin) that you feel. Harris is driving and readers are lucky to be in the passenger seat.”
Alison Meyers, Executive Director, Cave Canem Foundation

The Poet Behind the Wheel

is dangerous. Juggling pad, pen,
steering column, each traffic light
brings forth a line, every Yield a different
turn of phrase. The speedometer

counts out syllables, not speed
and directions come apart under his fingers.
Maps lose their meaning         Right?      Second
Left?               Gas station? –
only words, playing cards to be reshuffled later.

Do not get caught behind him
he drives slowly, leads followers astray
Do not honk your horn
it reminds him of Purcell, Armstrong, the Walls of Jericho.

Do NOT let him drive you:
Buckle up and hours later
who knows where you’ll arrive.

(Reginald Harris, from Autogeography, Northwestern University Press, 2013)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are so right, Reginald. Except the part about the pad and pen. It's all mental, but you are so right. B. Mbadugha