No poet ever expects to receive national recognition; most are happy if ten people not related to them show up at readings. So it’s a cause for giddy, jump-up-and-down jubilation when a national publication singles out an aspiring poet for recognition. For Tiana Clark, a first-year graduate student in Vanderbilt University’s M.F.A program in creative writing, that kind of exultation has lasted nearly a month already: on August 20, she learned that her work will be included in the 2015 Best New Poets anthology, and today the literary journal Rattle announced that Clark’s poem “Equilibrium” has won first prize in its annual competition.
The award carries a stipend of $10,000. “Equilibrium” was selected from a record submission pool of roughly 15,000 poems, according to the journal.
When Chapter 16 contacted Clark this afternoon, she was still reeling:
I’m honestly still in shock! I’m beyond grateful! Thunderstruck! You always have a dream of being published, but to win an award like this is flabbergasting! My heart is busting, and my face is full of happy tears! So many mentors and literary friends to thank in Nashville! This is truly a life-changing moment! I have been oscillating between screaming and speechlessness! If you see me, please pinch me, because I still can’t believe it!
“This kind of recognition is wonderfully affirming for emerging writers,” said poet Kate Daniels, who directs the Vanderbilt M.F.A. program. “Luckily, Tiana has been at work on her poetry for a while now, so—even though I know she is absolutely thrilled at the recognition and the astonishingly generous monetary award—she is not likely to have her head turned by the success. She is a wonderfully disciplined writer who has a sense of everything it takes to develop one’s poetic gift, as well as a vocational approach to her writing. This, in the end, is what will lead her to a satisfying life of poetry.”
The news from Rattle is just the latest in a year of wonders for the Vanderbilt M.F.A. program. It’s only mid-September, but already Vanderbilt students (and graduates) have received these honors:
• The publication of If You Find This, an inventive middle-grade novel by alum Matthew Baker (Vanderbilt M.F.A. 2012);
• A Frost Place chapbook prize and a National Endowment for the Arts grant for second-year graduate student Anders Carlson-Wee;
• The publication, this month, of When Are You Coming Home?, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, by Bryn Chancellor (Vanderbilt MFA 2009);
• Inclusion in the 2015 Best New Poets anthology for Lisa Dordal (Vanderbilt M.F.A. 2011);
• A prestigious Stegner Fellowship and inclusion in the 2015 Best New Poets anthology for poet Edgar Kunz (Vanderbilt M.F.A. 2014).
Program director Kate Daniels is understandably proud, but she also puts such good news in perspective: “When this kind of external recognition occurs for any of our extremely talented young writers of poetry and fiction, it makes us proud and pleased,” she wrote in an email. “But awards are icing on the cake—always the real and important thing is the work itself. And as far as that is concerned, all of our MFA writers—present and past—are prizewinners.”
For more updates on Tennessee authors, please visit Chapter 16‘s News & Notes page, here.