Every now and then I say to Paul, "I won the National Book Award," and he nods or says yes, understanding why I need to do this. I'm working on making this real. How can it be the case, how does one admit such news?
I have a fair amount of critical distance from awards, having been on both sides of the process and understanding how peculiar the whole thing can be, and how many factors come into play. Fifteen years ago, when Gore Vidal won for nonfiction, he sent a message from Rome saying, in effect, "Awards are always wrong. You've already chosen the wrong poet and the wrong novelist, and now you've chosen the wrong nonfiction writer." Readers of poetry are a stubbornly independent lot, I am happy to say, and don't care what anyone says they ought to read. They make their own way. Poetry is made for the long haul and what's honored this year isn't necessarily what will stick around.
All that said, I just couldn't be happier about winning. It feels different from the inside; the honor has a deep kind of glow about it. It lends both validation and a funny sense of permission - something along the lines of license to play, to chance.
I don't like the fact that my winning means my lovely brilliant fellow makers don't. Richard, Frank, Patricia and Reg are extraordinary. We all know there's no real way to judge between us; you can't take such individual, potent achievements and say this one is "best." It's just built into the structure of the prize.
And I'm still happy. And feel like I haven't woken up yet somehow. Which is why I will send interested readers to Paul's blog for the kind of good details that might give the texture of the night. I've just been made too, umm, hydrogenated somehow to write it. But he's done a great job with just the right fizzy, dramatic, pleasurable, kind of giddy feel.