My book Frost in the Low Areas was a finalist for the 2014 Massachusetts Book Award, along with Amy Dryansky’s Grass Whistle (her book won top spot, and it’s wonderful!), Stephen Burt’s Belmont, Mark Hart’s Boy Singing to Cattle, Myles Gordon’s Inside the Splintered Wood, and Ben Berman’s Strange Borderlands. Click the link below to see all the “Must-Read Books” of 2014 – fiction, nonfiction, children’s, and poetry – and read a little about them. 

Massachusetts Book Award

Here’s what the judges had to say about my book: “Karen Skolfield’s debut, Frost in the Low Areas introduces a poet who encompasses both the beauty and darkness of the natural world, the particulars of her children, and the corrosiveness of family secrets. Yet even in the darkest of circumstance, each poem is filled with joy, humor, and elegance.”

It’s pretty fabulous being in such good company, and I love that the state of Massachusetts (specifically, the library system) does so much to promote books. I’ve added the other books to my own “Must-Read” list – hey, they’re librarian endorsed! No one’s on more intimate footing with books than a librarian.

A nice side benefit: I’ve now met Amy Dryansky, Mark Hart (also from Amherst!!) and Ben Berman. It was such a pleasure. I hope I’ll get to meet Stephen Burt and Myles Gordon, as well. 

The PEN New England award ceremony speech (that never was)

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.”

2014 PEN New England Award in poetry

So – strange. I’ve put off writing this post for a few weeks, partly due to travel (vacation, yay) and partly because, as it turns out, winning a big award comes with certain obligations. The obligations are fun – an award ceremony this weekend (April 6), alerting all the publications who have ever been so kind as to publish something of mine or a review (I’m still not done yet), and in the future, some readings. All good.

Mostly, though, I’ve had to let this one sink in. My book, out of all the books of poetry published in New England in 2013 and submitted to PEN, was chosen. I don’t know if I can say who the final judge was, as PEN has not made this announcement, but my book had to rise in the usual path through all those books and somehow, somehow, get chosen. Over the past weeks, I’ve felt both ridiculously giddy and very humbled, mostly at the same time. I’m a little closer to tears than usual. My husband is so happy for me that I think even he is closer to tears than usual. I wish I could tell my mom. I wish, I wish. Why is it that an award leaves me wishing? 

When Karen Wulf of PEN New England called me, she told me my book just “levitated” to the top. Ms. Wulf, nothing before has made me believe in the supernatural, but my book levitating anywhere makes me believe. I’m going to keep an eye on my contributor copies at home, see if they occasionally hover. 

I know there’s some ground down there, and my feet will eventually encounter it, but for now, my book and I don’t feel gravity’s tug.

Here’s the link to the PEN announcement:
PEN New England Awards

2014 Split This Rock poetry contest

I just got word that I won the 2014 Split This Rock poetry contest, judged by Tim Seibles. Am I jumping up and down? Oh, yes. Here’s the link to the announcement and the poem:

“At the Mall, There’s a Machine That Tells You If You Are Racist”

While I’m at it, because I know I should, here’s a link to my book Frost in the Low Areas, which won the First Book Award for Poetry from Zone 3 Press and was published October 2013. Free shipping!

Frost in the Low Areas by Karen Skolfield

Enough about me, yeah? Instead, let’s celebrate a poem of Tim Seibles that’s sexy and body-powerful and positive and just all around fun. 

“Ode to My Hands” by Tim Seibles

My gratitude to Split This Rock – I have enjoyed the poetry they put forward for years, and I’m so happy to be invited to the Split This Rock festival in D.C. in March. Looking forward to it!

A review of my book, from Heavy Feather Review

Jordan Sanderson reviews Frost. Nice! 

Heavy Feather Review

It’s another one of those cases where someone sees more about my work than what I could see. Sanderson writes “In some of the poems, an abrupt sound transforms an entire scene.” And of course, Sanderson is correct: there’s an owl screaming, the sound of a glass dish shattering, the tapping out of S-O-S, but I’d never considered those sounds before and how they work in the manuscript. It’s one of the reasons writers need an audience.

Many thanks, HFR.

Frost in the Low Areas goes to India (and gets reviewed)

I won’t lie – your book making it partway around the world is a completely jazzy feeling. So far it’s made it to South Africa and India. Next person that sends me a photo of Frost in front of the Taj Mahal/Eiffel Tower/Topkapi Palace/etc. gets taken out to lunch. 

The photo below was taken by Mihir Vatsa of Hazaribagh, India. And, okay, the photo doesn’t really remind you of India, and you can’t pretend it’s lying on top of some amazing sari except if you squint and think very positive thoughts, but you know how tech India is these days and I’m sure that Smart-looking phone was manufactured AND purchased in India. And lives in India. What I’m trying to say is that my book is in India, and the very sweet Mihir Vatsa, a student there, wrote a review (? – a conversation about the book?) that makes me think we’d enjoy each other’s company if we ever get to meet in real life. No fawning. Very earnest, very straightforward. I like that type of person. Here’s his discussion of my book:

Frost discussion by Mihir Vatsa


Interview & poems (reprise) in Extract(s): Daily Dose of Lit

Jenn Monroe, one of the editors over at Extract(s), interviews me, and I get to talk about conversational tone, energy in lines, and when revising is “eat-a-scoop-of-chocolate-ice-cream fun.”

Extract(s) Interview

They also reprinted three poems of mine: “Where Babies Come From,” “Backblast Area Clear,” and “Rumors of Her Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” Link below.

Three poems

Many thanks to Jenn and the others at Extract(s) for the interview, and for giving me space in the interview to talk about one of my favorite poems, “Ming” by Jill McDonough.