I am excited to announce that my debut collection, A Man Runs into a Woman, has been selected as a finalist in the poetry category for the New Zealand Post Book Awards. There are three first-time authors out of sixteen finalists (myself, Gigi Fenster for The Intentions Book, and Jarrod Gilbert for Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand). It’s an incredible honour and, as the judges described it, “an amazing achievement.” You can also vote for my collection in the People’s Choice Award.
I found out that I was a finalist about a month ago (and signed a confidentiality agreement until the official announcement date) so I’d spent some time getting used to the idea. It still didn’t prepare me for yesterday when the finalists were announced. I have never had so many texts, emails, tweets, and phone calls of support, including on the occasion of my son’s birth. I think this shows the incredible community and support network that is New Zealand writing.
While being short listed for a writing award (and the associated publicity and book sales) is what every author wants, for me it means that readers are connecting with my work; that my poetry is in dialogue with the world. I remember writing the death row poems, most of which were written in an internet cafe during precious time off work, and wondering what the hell I was doing. It seemed insane at the time. I thought no one would publish the series, but the poems were in my head and wouldn’t shut up. My manuscript was rejected by two publishers – admittedly in different and much weaker incarnations – before my publisher, Hue & Cry Press, worked with me to shape it into the current collection. They took such great care with my work. I feel that this book is as much theirs as it is mine.
I was interviewed yesterday about being a finalist, and the interviewer asked me what the recognition means to me. Not to be melodramatic, but it means everything. Writing is an inherently solitary activity. Most of my time is spent alone. I’ve learned that following my voice, instincts, and ideas that excite me leads to interesting work, but being shortlisted validates that impulse. I suddenly have permission to continue to write what excites me. Poet and critic, Lesley Wheeler elegantly summed up the idea on her blog:
If something about the jostle of the words in a poem doesn’t delight, confuse, or outright alarm you, why are you writing it? Who knows if you’ll ever have readers, so you have to imagine them and forget them. You have to please yourself.
Although I whole heartedly agree, I’ve also learned that its essential for my work to be part of a writing community. I have a group of trusted readers (who are also writers) that I could not do without. For me, it is the tug of war that happens between trusting my voice and trusting my readers that pushes my poetry to a better place.