Eleanor Lerman (2007)
As a writer, I have been rescued more than once in my life. The first time was by a high school English teacher who told me, that I'd better not read my poetry to the rest of the class (a bit too much East Village raunch, I guess, for my classmates) but encouraged me to be a writer, because while my work wasn't his taste, it was good. The second time was by my current publisher Sarabande, who asked me, after a decades-long hiatus, if I'd like to try to write poetry again. It turned out that I would. Now, in a sense, I have been rescued again, both by the Academy of American Poets, which recently gave me the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the National Endowment for the Arts, which -- finally, thirty years on -- has allowed me, when someone recently referred to me as "a serious writer," to think, instead of "someday," that, well, maybe I am. Serious? Okay, sometimes. A writer? Yes. Finally.
The NEA fellowship is not only a rescue, it's a sign. As my works moves from a focus on middle-age culture shock to addressing the fears of a post-hippie generation (What do you mean, I'm going to die?), I think it's time to get on the road again, as we did in the psychedelic days, and see what there is to say about aging in a time when the revolution we wanted did not happen but a lot of other unimaginable things did. It's time for me to do readings, talk to my fellow travelers, and keep on keeping on. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity.
"That Sure is My Little Dog"
Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around
on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is
my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And
just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains
of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She's damn
ready and so am I. What else did you expect from the
braniacs of my generation? The survivors, the nonbelievers,
the odd-ball-outs with the Cuban Missile Crisis still
sizzling in our blood? Don't tell me that you bought
our act, just because our worried parents (and believe me,
we're nothing like them) taught us how to dress for work
and to speak as if we cared about our education. And
I guess the music fooled you: you thought we'd keep
the party going even to the edge of the abyss. Well,
too bad. It's all yours now. Good luck on the ramparts
What you want to watch for is when the sky shakes
itself free of kites and flies away. Have a nice day.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506
Eleanor Lerman is a writer and editor who lives in New York. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love, published when she was twenty-one, was nominated for a National Book Award. She has since published three other award-winning collections of poetry-Come the Sweet By and By; The Mystery of Meteors; and Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds; along with Observers and Other Stories, a collection of short stories. Most recently, she was the recipient of the 2006 Milton Dorfman Poetry Prize and was awarded the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for the year's most outstanding book of poetry for Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds.
Photo courtesy of the author