Uncategorized | September 01, 2015

By Anne Barngrover

For the next few weeks, we will be featuring narrative accounts “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak—the 2014 winners in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction of our Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Today we hear from Alexandra Teague, last year’s winner in poetry. Here is what she has to say about her experience:

“Winning the Jeffrey E. Smith prize was really one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten as a poet. At the end of the spring semester of 2014, with my second book accepted and waiting for publication at Persea, I was working on poems toward a new manuscript—one of which had become the start of a multi-part epistolary poem addressed to the 4th-century B.C. Greek courtesan Phryne. With more tonal swings that my usual work (and a really unusual premise even by my standards), I was excited about the poem but also very aware that my reservoir of ideas and experience was running low after years of pushing on the last book and at a new tenure-track job. I needed to back away from words and focus on just being human, which led me to do something I’d dreamed about for years: walk the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago through Spain—500 miles with no cell phone, no laptop, no writing except the occasional journal entry. When I got home, I went back to ‘Letters to Phryne’ (with some trepidation—unsure how I’d reenter a project I’d abandoned for months, and if I’d changed in ways that would make that difficult) and started drafting the last five sections: the first time I’ve ever taken such a sustained break between parts of a single poem (and certainly the farthest I’ve walked!).

I love TMR and have been really honored to be published in it a couple of times before, and though I don’t usually enter many contests, I decided to try my luck with this poem and another new one I’d written since the Camino. When I found out months later that I was a finalist, I was overjoyed, and when I won. . . well, it was an incredible, incredible honor and gift: to know that this work that to me represented some substantial shifts but also continuities as a writer and a person, and which felt central to my next project, had spoken to readers who I trust as much as the TMR editors. If I’d been concerned the year before that I was writing at the expense of feeling fully human, meeting the TMR editors and staff was an additional perfect antidote. I don’t think I’ve ever met nicer, more generous, more unassuming people involved in the publishing/writing world than the staff who greeted me in Columbia. From the first get-together pizza party at the TMR office; to attempting to bound around the track on Speer Morgan’s Kangoo Jumps; to conversations with Speer and Kris and Chun; to the beautiful evening of the reading; to meeting my fantastically warm and smart fellow prize winners, Rachel and Andrew, and discovering the interests and ideas about writing we have in common, the weekend was so affirming of why I write, and how fortunate I am that ancient stories of courtesans, present living, ancient pilgrimage routes, and a celebratory trip to part of the country where I used to live and seldom get to return to, can all become part of one path.”

You can learn more about Teague’s poetry and projects here: http://www.alexandrateague.com.

Want to join her as one of our prize winners? You can submit to our 2015 Editors’ Prize Contest here. The deadline is October 1st. We can’t wait to read your submissions!