First: I’m not giving a speech. When I got the news from Karen Wulf of PEN NE, though, it was on crummy cell phone reception and right before I went backpacking in New Mexico with my family. I had three days of hiking and getting snagged by various cholla cactuses to contemplate the award, and over that time I began to wonder if I would give a speech – if, in fact, Karen Wulf had told me I’d be giving an acceptance speech but the phone had cut out at just that moment.
I am not a giver of speeches. But I began to write one in my head, just in case, on our hikes, up and over these huge boulders cast down by the mountains around Dog Canyon. I won’t get to give this at the awards ceremony, but here it is.
“Three weeks ago, after getting the call from Karen Wulf, I turned to my husband: ‘Lucky you,’ I told him. ‘You get to be with the winner of the PEN New England Award in poetry.’ Later that day, when my children asked for dinner, they were told a PEN New England Award winner would not be handling their corporeal needs. Red lights and stop signs held no meaning for me. Dust and dog hair might build up in someone else’s house, but not in mine.
“So far, the PEN New England has made me an egotistical lover, a detached parent, a distracted driver, and a slovenly housekeeper.
“But I can tell that the less-savory effects of the award are fading. I’ve cooked a few times, pushed a vacuum around the house, apologized to my husband – you can guess how – and even re-acquainted myself with the brake pedal in my car.
“Those of you who know my writing know that I use humor as an interface for the more serious thoughts that follow, so I will say that what’s left after the vainglorious last few weeks is gratitude, a river of it, and with it, a new level of confidence that I did not even know I lacked. A desire to never again apologize for being a poet by calling myself by the generic ‘writer.’
“I’m still shocked that I, a PEN winner, must sometimes mop the floor. That the dogs need to be walked, the homework graded. I still get junk mail and sometimes, when the phone rings, it’s one of those annoying surveys. In these ways, PEN has not improved my life one bit. But my back is straighter. I can’t stop smiling. Turns out, it is my thank-yous that don’t see red lights or stop signs, but will continue on and on.”