(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
This past winter I spent some intensely creative weeks at the MacDowell Colony in snowy New Hampshire, and there I met the wonderful poet (and a mean Scrabble player!) Anna M. Evans. She inspired me so much at MacDowell that I asked her to write a guest blog for me. I’m so happy to be able to share it here:
There are, of course, two different kinds of inspiration—the trigger that causes one to begin a specific creative act, and the impetus that keeps one working, not necessarily creatively, towards all one’s goals and aspirations. This is especially true for a lyric poet like myself, since most of my literary outpourings fit on a single page. The trigger for an individual poem usually comes from something I experience or encounter in my daily life or in the writings of others, and I am typically cued to begin the poem during moments of contemplative processing, often while dog-walking or driving.
But the occurrence of this first type of inspiration is trivial to me besides what it takes to carry on, to keep responding to the triggers by writing poems, and then to mail out packets of poems despite setbacks, disappointments, even failures. For that kind of inspiration I have to look to my daughters.
My younger daughter, Lorna, resembles me as a child, which is a constant inspiration to me to model for her as best I can how to handle the characteristics with which we are both blessed and cursed—compassion, perfectionism and self-doubt—to name a few.
My athletic elder daughter, Becky, inspires me in a different way. For about as long as I have been working seriously on writing poetry with a view to publication, Becky has been working through the USAG competitive gymnastics levels. I was a bookish child, not much good at sports, and definitely no use at individual sports, so when Becky began competing Level Four gymnastics at the tender age of eight, I was initially at a loss for how to comfort her when things went badly. How do you encourage a weeping third grader who fell off the beam and consequently didn’t medal in her best event? Eventually it hit on me to use poetry as an analogy. Falling off the beam during her cartwheel at an invitational meet, I told her, was like when I got a rejection from a literary journal I really wanted to appear in; flubbing her back handspring at a qualifier was like me discovering yet again that my book manuscript was only a finalist for the most recent contest I’d entered; failing to stick her landing after her bars routine at the State Championship was like me failing to get the fellowship I had really wanted. And what should she do? She should do what I did—take a deep breath and keep trying.
She’s at Level Nine now and doing some big skills. Things have turned round a bit. I can’t believe she’s stuck with it after everything she has been through. She had a bad Level Seven State Championship and her high-achieving Russian coach gave up on her, precipitating a mini mental breakdown in sixth grade. She pulled through that only to fracture a bone in her hand, and while that was still healing, she needed a tonsillectomy, all of which impacted her Level Eight season. Last year she hyper-extended a knee and was injured for most of the season. And that’s not to mention all the times we ended up doing algebra homework at eleven p.m. since Helicopter Mom refused to allow the academics to go by the board simply because Becky had twenty hours of practice a week. Despite all of that and the transition to High School this September, she hasn’t given up.
So now, when I get a rejection from that coveted literary journal, I tell myself it’s like her falling off the beam during her switch leap-back tuck beam series, bad news from another book contest is like when she lands on her butt after the double full tumbling pass on floor, me losing that fellowship is like her failing to stick the double back bar dismount. And what should I do? I have to do what she always, always does, and what makes me prouder of her than even winning could—I need to take a deep breath and keep trying.
—Anna M. Evans
Anna M. Evans’ poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Harvard Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, American Arts Quarterly, and 32 Poems. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and is the Editor of the Raintown Review. Recipient of a 2011 Fellowship from the MacDowell Artists’ Colony, she currently teaches poetry at West Windsor Art Center. Her chapbooks Swimming and Selected Sonnets are available from Maverick Duck Press.
Visit Anna at annamevans.com.
Here are some places you can read Anna’s poems online: