Carrie Oeding's new book wins Akron Poetry Prize, evokes 'the strangeness of presence in motherhood'
Ohio University alumna Carrie Oeding won the Akron Poetry Prize for her new book of poetry, "If I Could Give You a Line," released March 7, by the University of Akron Press.
Oeding earned a Ph.D. in English, specializing in creative writing, in 2007 from the College of Arts and Sciences, followed by an MFA from Eastern Washington University.
"I taught at Ohio University, the University of Houston, Marshall University, and Bridgewater State University, and I currently live in Rhode Island where I work at Johnson and Wales University as an instructional designer and educator," Oeding said.
Her first book of poems, "Our List of Solutions," was from 42 Miles Press/Indiana University South Bend and won the Lester M. Wolfson Prize.
Oeding's latest collection of poetry explores motherhood and visual art, confidence, and uncertainty.
"Visual art is essential to this book, and the book started with my envy of contemporary visual art and the immediacy I feel when I walk into a gallery or museum and experience that engagement with something made,” Oeding said. "I am exploring what it means that a moment of looking, as in a museum or as speaker in a poem, can feel both public and private at once. That tug and pull also connects to some of the speakers as mothers who want to be heard as artists but feel limited. What is the value of making something when they often feel ignored?"
The book description evokes "the strangeness of presence in motherhood when the self is hyper-aware of its erasure:"
What does it mean to make something to share publicly when you are unsure of your own presence? "If I Could Give You a Line" cultivates the strangeness of presence in motherhood when the self is hyper-aware of its erasure. The collection explores its obsession with the physicality of visual art, down to the line, asserting and creating a voice that longs to be as present as a waver in the line of an Agnes Martin painting. A line that pulls you in to see the hand that made it.
For Oeding’s speakers, to look at art as mothers gives them permission to make it. Through humor, provocation, and uncertainty, this associative work builds momentary worlds of looking and connecting. The voice in these poems are confident in their performance and gesture to the reader to participate in their world-building, using materials like toddler garbage, preliterate scribbles, boiled green beans, James Turrell’s skies, Cara Delevingne’s eyebrows, and Yayoi Kusama’s mirrors.
"If I Could Give You a Line" was selected for the Akron Poetry Prize by poet Erika Meitner. Works in it appear in Denver Quarterly, Bennington Review, DIAGRAM, Sixth Finch, New Delta Review, Miracle Monocle, Pleiades, and elsewhere. The book was supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, winning a 2020 poetry fellowship for Oeding.
Oeding's journey to becoming an award-winning poet took her from a southern Minnesota farm, through seven years in small-town Athens, to a home in the nation's smallest state.
What did the process of writing teach her that she likely otherwise would not have learned?
"That I can do something I didn’t think I could do," she said.
Q&A with Carrie Oeding
Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life?
A: While I am a poet, fiction professor Darrell Spencer affected my poetry maybe more than any professor I’ve studied with. The way we studied fiction helped me understand voice, no matter what genre. If you can’t find a voice in your writing that isn’t enjoying and exploring and embracing immediacy in your work, it will feel tedious to you and your readers. We also read literary theory in a way that helped me think creatively.
Also, Sharmila Voorakkara and Mark Halliday's poetry workshops were also important to me. They also taught books from the press that my newest book, "If I Could Give You a Line," would eventually be published (by the University of Akron Press), which is still wild to me. Additionally, Dr. Sherrie Gradin's courses on pedagogy and rhetoric and composition were critical to the professor I would become.
Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?
A: I don’t tend to have ah-ha moments! OHIO was my first choice in schools for working on a Ph.D. in creative writing, so getting in was already a breakthrough for me. While taking my first class with Darrell Spencer, a literature and theory course on contemporary fiction, I wrote a breakthrough poem that became the first poem of my dissertation (which became my first book of poems, "Our List of Solutions").
It felt more like opening a door than having an epiphany. There was something about what we were reading and how we were talking about literature that allowed me to let go, get out of my way, and write a poem in a voice I found very satisfying. Most poems don’t evolve in that way, but this one flew out! The poem was also eventually featured on PBS News Hour’s ArtBeat!
Q: What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?
A: Finding my style and voice in my poetry/dissertation was a journey. The poem I mention above helped me carve the path to exploring that voice. Once I locked into my project, I knew what advice to take for my first book from my creative writing workshops, and what to leave aside.
Q: What is your writing process like? Do you write at a set time, in a certain place, and do you have writer friends with whom you exchange pages?
A: I live with my husband and 7-year-old daughter in a small Cape Cod house in Rhode Island. My husband, Kent Shaw, is also a poet, and we are lucky to each have our own small office. This space tends to be the only place I can write, but I have learned to jot down an idea or line or more anywhere, if necessary. I don’t write at the same time every day, but I reserve routine pockets of time throughout the week.
My husband sees my work first, and we understand each other’s styles! I know what he will say, if I show him something too early. This helps push my drafts to a place where they feel done or into new territory for which I need his perspective. When I wrote my newest book, "If I Could Give You a Line," I took a lot of risks and strange turns, and he helped check my exploration.
Q: Who are your favorite writers, and did any of their works serve as inspirations, lanterns that illuminated the way, and/or other kinds of resources?
A: I like too many writers to ever name ultimate favorites. I tend to focus on who is important to me at that time, for a particular book/phase I’m in.
Because I think of "If I Could Give You a Line" as a collection that’s almost like entering an art exhibit, I was drawn to books that felt that way. Some of these books were Bridgette Bates’s "What is Not Missing is Light," Mary-Kim Arnold’s, "Litany for the Long Moment," Stacy Szymaszek’s "Journal of Ugly Sites," Diana Khoi Nguyen’s "Ghost Of," Sherod Santos’s "Square Inch Hours," Sara Vap’s "Winter," Cole Swenson’s "On Walking On," Yanyi’s "The Year of Blue Water," and more.
But during the time I was writing and reading for this book, around two dozen books stayed around my desk as standouts that helped me. I kept picking them up. Some of these books also had interest in ekphrasis, poems that have a relationship with visual art/artists.
Q: What advice would you give students on that same path now? What do you wish you knew earlier on?
A: Read as much as or more then you write. You will not expand and advance your writing without reading. Read a lot of contemporary writers and figure out what you like and what is out there, while remaining open, as you and your writing will change. When you write and finish works that surprise and excite you, move on to something new. Honestly, I think I encountered everything at the right time I needed to.
Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?
A: Each year’s Lit Fest was an exciting and memorable time. Not only did the English Department invite interesting authors to read, but they structured the festival to include lectures and craft talks from the writers, which I enjoyed the most.
Additionally, living in Athens for seven years, five as a doctoral student, and two years teaching as a post-doc, was a critical time in my life. I spent time with my friends from the program, meeting at Casa, Donkey, and Village Bakery. It’s exciting to see how many new businesses have popped up since then, too. I still have dreams I’m walking around town.
Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?
A: The Athens International Film Festival! Exhibits at the Kennedy Museum of Art. And the farmer’s market. I am already going over one thing.
See more about Oeding's book, "If I Could Give You a Line."