By Taylor Lewis
It is given that writers are inspired by the world around them. But it is what they take from their world and how they interpret it that makes their works unique.
Three of this year’s University of Maryland’s nominees for the Intro Journals Project, a literary competition for students in Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), are clear examples of that phenomenon. For Eric Kozlik, inspiration is physical, it is nature. For Tim DeMay, it is metaphysical. And for Emily Lyons, it came in her sleep.
“I had this dream that somebody was introducing me to their pet, their amazing pet,” says the second-year MFA candidate, “And it was an imaginary pet, it wasn’t real. They were insisting that they were feeding it and taking care of it and doing all these things, but it just wasn’t a real pet.”
That pet morphed into a child in Lyons’ Elijah, the fiction nominee. In the short story, two couples at dinner discuss having a child. One plans to acquire the child through surrogacy or adoption, while the other, a homosexual couple, provides feedback while harboring personal reasons for not attempting.
Though the subject itself is not an uncommon reality, it is Lyons’ emphasis on the motives and desires behind the couples’ reasoning that reveals why Elijah was nominated, “I wanted to write about characters that, they’re trying to invent their own personalities or reinvent their own personalities through this imaginary child that they don’t have yet.”
The artificiality that comes through in Lyons’ short story does not have an obvious place in Kozlik’s After Trapping, but the nature theme that Kozlik says flows through his writing is in part a reaction to the world that people try to create, “I find that the more we try to escape nature, to write about the ideas and things we humans construct on our own, the more we find that nature has beaten us to the punch, that she has constructed everything in a way more sublime than we can possibly express.”
His poem, originally a common meter assignment for an English class, illustrates the aftermath of trapping an animal in a familiar and tranquil setting, “I entered it in the Intro Journals Project competition because I felt like it provided a fresh and un-nursery-rhyme-like take on a very familiar meter and rhyme scheme.”
And where Kozlik has seemingly found some peace in the natural, DeMay, another poet nominee, finds himself still trying to bridge the disconnect between what life should be and what it is. His poem, Confessions of Reading Robinson Jeffers During a Storm is inspired by the 20th century poet who DeMay calls a “spirit guide” for the piece.
DeMay begins the poem with an understanding of the world via Jeffers, then returns to his own reality, one lacking in the natural. The Pennsylvania native’s focus on this internal conflict is nothing new, having studied philosophy as an undergrad at Northwestern University. With the aid of writing, DeMay feels that he has been at least able to get a better understanding of life’s limitations, or rather the lack of them, “I think poetry’s probably helped me understand the sort of humility when it comes to philosophy and faith. Seeing that there is no complete system, there is no system that closes things off.”
The three writers are among five nominated by the MFA Program for Creative Writing. Caroline Randall was also nominated for her poem, Crude Genetics, while Daniel Knowlton received a nomination for his nonfiction work, Shit (excerpts from a memoir-in-progress).
All five pieces have been entered in the national competition, with the chance of a cash reward and publication. Winners will be announced in spring 2012.