#CrashawPrize The shortlist in profile: Fritz Ward
For the first decade of my life, I grew up in the shadow of Disneyland in Anaheim, California. At nine each night, I’d gaze out my bedroom window to watch Walt’s fireworks electrifying the sky. Our family moved from the suburb of angels to a two-stoplight town nestled amongst the densely-forested hills north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Goodbye cartoon mouse, hello nine-year old deer hunters.
Eventually, I fled the charms and absurdities of small town life for college in St. Petersburg, Florida. Those four years of writing weren’t nearly enough, so I signed on for a tour of duty in grad school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where I spent two semi-idyllic years writing and earning an M.F.A. Since then, my work has appeared in a number of fine journals and anthologies and earned the Cecil Hemley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America. Last year, Blue Hour Press released my chapbook, Doppelgänged.
In the last ten years, I’ve been lucky to call a number of places home, from Sarasota, Florida to Wine Country in California. No matter the landscape, the writing addiction has shadowed me wherever I’ve gone. Playing with words is just too damn seductive. Today, I work at Swarthmore College and live just outside of Philadelphia with my wife.
So where did the book begin for you, how did the book come to be written?
I’ve been fascinated with the epistolary form for a very long time. As a terribly self-aware and insecure teenager, I communicated far more effectively through the written word than the spoken. I had a knack for crushing on girls that were moving away, and I took to writing thinly-veiled love letters to these distant crushes. I continued writing letters and postcards for years, but it wasn’t until I developed a poetry crush on Lynn Emanuel’s work that the form began to directly influence my own work. I was so enamored with Lynn’s Then, Suddenly that I decided to write her a letter. After drafting a fawning but rather dull bit of fan mail, I couldn’t bring myself to send something so lackluster, so I set about infusing the letter with the same playfulness, pleasure, and perilousness that inhabited her poems. Slowly, that letter morphed into “Let Her,” the first of many poems in the epistolary mode.
What was going on in your life while you were writing it?
Heartbreak. Hope. Hurricanes. California. Cancer. Kiss this. Say goodbye. The Gulf. The Pacific. Wine. Vermont. Debt. Depression. Skinny-dipping. Atlanta. Las Vegas. Denver. Philadelphia. Belize. Failure. Friends. Love.
What do you think were the real driving elements within the book — the things that moved it all forward for you?
See the previous answer. Really. All that…life…both impeded the book and drove it forward. I’m sure it would have stalled if it weren’t for the love and encouragement of some incredible friends and lovers.
Other elements? Well, loss and longing suffuse the book. We have to put it somewhere, right? And the poems seemed to embrace it, to transform into something more tangible and fathomable. At times the poems seemed like they were trying to capture what was lost, sometimes before it was even gone. Other times, it felt like they were trying to conjure what never existed and then find the best way to lose it.
How long did it take to bring it all together?
Too long. Or perhaps just long enough. Some poems got their start over 10 years ago, others barely 9 months ago. The book never felt like a project, more like a life that slowly and steadily evolved, shedding old skin cells that no longer belonged and adding new eyes, new tongues, new fingernails and vocal cords.
Who was important to you in developing your writing life?
I’ve studied with some amazing and insightful teachers, but the most influential people have been some incredibly talented friends and fellow writers, including Simeon Berry, Adam Day, Cecily Iddings, Christina Stoddard, Jill Alexander Essbaum, and my wife, Roxanne Halpine Ward.
Where do you think you’ll go to next in your writing — what are you working on now?
Wherever it leads me, I suppose. I have a few more epistolary poems that I’m still tangoing with, but once those are done, I’m not sure what’s next. I may take a short break and focus on photography for a bit. Or perhaps I’ll mine the life of some hiply-obscure historical figure to write a series of poems about.
Dear Cannibal Quivering with Lipstick and Moonlight
I was nominally yours. You were abnormally mine. We loved with our fangs
out, our truths in. I licked fifty-six square inches of your lavendered skin. I begged
for the first two psalms and received your twenty-four hour flood. You hand-washed
six figs, fed me one per night. I listened for your three deepest breaths,
but your mouth was a drain painted Harlot. Spring delivered the first four steps
of happiness and I tangoed in the mineshafts of your moonlight, unsutured.
Summer sent us your slow-clotting cuts, your sugar ants, your human dark
and your wild honey. It was all a little too sweet to believe in. The truth is just another way
of saying I always hoped you’d stop loving me the next day. And that you never would.
And each of those meals in between, I longed for your ingredients: your sweet cream
and your curry and your over-ripe bed. I stayed. Not for the cancer
or your skin beneath me, but to watch your soft hands flutter and flay the green skin
of the mango, its glistening flesh exposed, alone.
Discover more about Fritz Ward
Check out Fritz’s chapbook from Blue Hour Press, Doppelgänged, here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/doppelganged/16313126
Audio of Fritz reading a poem: