In the middle of all of the chaos of the world, the inability to rise, sometimes, from bed and face another day under this administration, I was given a great gift. Last week, I received a call from Lisa Bowden, the co-founder and editor of Kore Press, letting me know that Robin Coste Lewis had chosen my manuscript, Trailer Trash, as the winner of the 2016 Kore Press First Book Award.
On the phone with Lisa, I rightfully embarrassed myself. I asked her what it was like to make someone’s dream come true. She was gracious about it. After I got off the phone, I sobbed in the wet dirt of my garden (it’d been raining ceaselessly), spending a long time looking at the sugar peas I’d just planted, thinking—you were planted the day my first book got accepted. And, most importantly, feeling hopeful in a world that had not given me much hope, as of late—a world that had been as ceaselessly terrible as the rain in California that has been flooding the streets of usually arid places.
If I was old enough to say that I had a Magnum Opus, then I would falsely called it Trailer Trash. It was a project that had come out of another project—quite a common experience for writers— and one that took me by surprise. I thought I’d been writing about Virginia Woolf. I hadn’t. I’d been writing about growing up in chemically-ravaged Southern California in the 80s/90s, about a type of poverty most people don’t associate with California. I was writing about our trailer park, my family, but I was also writing broadly, about a kind of people who aren’t often seen in poems. This manuscript has traveled with me extensively, as a partner would: Tennessee, Belgium, all over California—finishing at the Vermont Studio Center, where I spent every day of an entire month working on it for thirteen hour days, poems taped on the wall under categories: Chemical Warfare, Dead Mom, Jesus, Gay.
In the immediate days after Kore Press made my dream come true, I couldn’t stop crying, felt sick, felt panicked—what happens, after all, after a big dream comes true? I’d known true joy before. I’m in love, after all, with a person and a life. But no one really talks about the after. Perhaps because it’s a huge privilege, and feels indulgent to say. But really, what do you do?
After I finished Trailer Trash, in 2015, I couldn’t write poems for a bit of a spell. Two years, actually. I felt soothed by the words of other poets who said, as Louise Gluck said, “I too, have been visited by long periods of silence.” But in the week following the phone call, I’ve been writing like mad- a new project, maybe. And that’s what you do, in the after.