FIRST you must assemble your application materials / by Laura Kochman

I have papers to grade and books to read, but I recently remembered that the Ruth Lilly fellowship applications are due soon, so I'm doing that instead. I don't feel like I have much of a chance, ever, at that fellowship, but there isn't a point in not sending work in, just in case. It's not that I don't think my writing is 'good' enough--it's that I know what kind of writing the committee chooses, and it's not often mine. The application instructions note that "you may include multiple poems on one page, but total pages of poems must not exceed ten," which is all well and good and nice of them, except that you can really only do that with poems that don't use the page as a unit of space. My work has a lot of white space, so I can't show the committee as much of it as other writers might be able. Last year there was that brouhaha over the five winners, who were all male, and yeah, I think that that's a problem, but it goes deeper than the gender/sex to which these writers ascribe. The applications are read blind, so no one picking the winners knew that they were picking only men. Except. Except that there is something inherently 'male' about their writing, in this writing tradition that they came from, this 20th-century interest in narrative-with-some-images-and-form-that-doesn't-get-in-the-way-of-content. Each winner's writing is not incredibly different from each other winner's writing (although I did enjoy some more than others). The lack of gender diversity stems from a lack of diversity in style/content/ideas/forms. There's a place and an audience for the kind of writing that has been represented by these winners, but I'd like to see some other writing localities getting represented this year. In an intelligent and thoughtful essay on accessibility in poetry, Joshua Marie Wilkinson argues that "that slipperiness of a poem, elusiveness even, is not a wall; that’s an invitation to participate in a field of meaning." I'd like to see some slippery poets get some money, because they are also worth representing and supporting. This is the kind of award that gets noticed by people outside of the poetry community, that gets the New York Times to round up writers and take pictures of them in stylish coats, that helps potential readers learn about new writers. If we award this kind of public prize to a variety of writers, a variety that better represents the diversity of work that is happening right now, maybe we can open up new readership. Maybe we can take away some of the fear of inaccessibility, and instead have conversations about the strange, the surreal, the jittery, the marginal.