I found out last night that I won Puerto del Sol's poetry contest, and I am beyond grateful and excited.
I always saw myself as a poet whose work only worked when taken as a whole, and forever I was afraid to submit to contests like these - self-rejecting, rationalizing, and just hurting myself because of it. As so many other things in my life were changing (and still are), I decided to take a chance last April on a newer poem I was especially proud of. I'm so glad I chose to believe in myself in this new way. Winning this contest, I feel like I can let go of this belief I had about my work - that I couldn't write poems that worked well on their own. I can free myself to make the most beautiful things I possibly can for the people I care most about.
This poem is maybe the crux of the new book/video-game I am working on. To me it was one of the most important poems I ever gave myself permission to write. This poem, and the book it comes from, is a way of digging into the super complex relationship I have with gender. The character of Diane is a made-up twin sister who bursts into being around the time I start to gain some self-awareness (8 or 9) and dies around the time I start puberty - a way of simultaneously acknowledging, mourning, and celebrating the feminine self within me that all my life I was denied and denied myself communion with.
It's a really intricate and messy set of ideas and symbols for me, of which I only had a faint inkling for a long time - it took me a few years to muster up the courage to try to unpack it in poetry. But - as I wrote this poem, and as I'm putting this new book together, I'm exploring all of this, and coming to heal and love myself more through it. I am affirmed repeatedly of the incredible power of believing in myself and following my heart and giving myself permission to explore what I need to explore and be who I need to be. I also owe so much of that to all the support that I've received and continue to receive. Thank you (and thank you especially to Ariel Chu, whose continual unflagging love and support have been a constant gift).
I'm also incredibly humbled by contest judge Emily Pérez's fantastic reading of the poem: "There is nothing flashy about 'The Room Divider,' and yet, like the kids hiding between the folds of a blanket hung on twine to divide their bedroom, the unobtrusive heart of this poem haunts its reader. The poem addresses the speaker’s sibling 'Diane,' asking her to remember their old room. A divider is a child’s attempt to attain control and privacy, to manage space, and this poem beautifully enacts those things. Control appears in the lines and language: in five four-line stanzas, plainspoken diction glides across subtle internal rhymes. In an almost-iambic rhythm, the story unfolds. Stanzas are even and orderly. No linguistic or imagistic tricks call attention to themselves; our focus is on the siblings and their attempts to both irritate and connect as they hide from one another beneath the blanket fold, right on the dividing line. We are alerted that something may not be right with Diane, who is 'thin… / by then' but it is not until the penultimate stanza that we learn of Diane’s death. The speaker has kept this private because the true audience—Diane—already knows. Afterwards, the speaker attempts a fire, which 'wouldn’t take.' This is not a poem of flaming rage. Instead, this is a poem of grief and slow recovery. In life, the siblings did not cross into each other’s space, but after Diane is gone, the speaker confesses to a gesture that signals the weight of despair: 'I tried to sleep / in your bed permanently.' Relief does not come quickly, but after a time: 'For a while / that seemed right. Then, I moved to mine.' Quietly, deliberately, this poem shepherds its reader through years, a relationship, life and death, and back to life again."
I'll post a link to the poem as soon as it goes live in September.