"Christeene Fraser is a vibrant new voice on the poetry scene. Starkly confessional, yet warmly human, her writing strikes a nerve in the audience...a poet to watch."

Bruce Haring, Director, New York Book Festival

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Doppelganger, Or, Can You Ever Go to the Same Place Twice?

Recently on my trip to New York City, I found myself visiting the same places I'd loved while I lived there. Without any conscious thought at all, my feet took me where I spent countless hours as a penniless undergrad: Bryant Park, the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library, the Central Park great lawn, St.Patrick's on 5th, Barnes and Noble on 66th, the same, the same...

And yet. Not the same.


-Bryant Park loveliness.
-Magically delicious street gyros.
-7 train that shakes you like a deranged nanny caught on tape.
-Eau de subway (it has its own unique funk, like home).
-Crazies yelling obscenities below my window at 2am.


-Neighborhoods: Columbus Circle now = mini-mall.
-Stores: Bronx Target(I-wudda-given-a-leg-for-one-back-in-tha-day).
-Laws: Honking illegal in Manhattan? It's the city symphony.
-Inhabitants: 125th Street is so...white? Not bad, just different.
-Weather: It was hot, balmy even. It always seemed freezing to me in New York before. Maybe I'm just fatter. Yeah, most definitely fatter.

I tripped around the city looking for something familiar or beloved in the changing landscape; and I was a little overwhelmed by it, the passage of time. The apartment where Edgar Allen Poe lived is now a NYU dorm room. The bookstore where William Faulkner made his fateful meeting with Elizabeth Anderson is now a department store. A bariatrics clinic looms awkwardly in proximity to Edith Wharton's house in leafy Gramercy Park.

Everything is a version of something else.

Why do we return to places, sometimes even people, expecting the same thing twice? We want things, loves, experiences to be held in suspension, bottled at their peak. I suppose this is what getting older means. It means that neighborhoods will look different, even only a few years later. It means that people and love, not only can, but WILL change.

It means that you can never really go back to the same place twice.

But if you are very lucky, this new thing--this hybrid child of past and present--will be more than just a doppelganger following you in the dark recesses of memory. This new thing will be even more lovely than the park bench you remembered, speckled in light.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I won? Wait, I won! On the 2010 New York Book Festival

Last Wednesday was no ordinary day for me. I woke up and packed my trunk to the brim with popcorn and pottery and rubber ducks (a one-woman flea market), and made my way to work where I was on a committee planning a "county fair" honoring the good folks of the Emory University library.

If the rubber ducks and riku glazed coffee cups weren't bizarre enough, the news I received that afternoon certainly was:

I won the poetry prize for the 2010 New York Book Festival for my first chapbook, Little Earthquakes.

Maybe 'bizarre' is the wrong word, it was more like complete-and-utter-shock-my-throat-is-doing-the-lumpy-cry-of-a-beauty-queen-getting-her-tiara-after-6-months-of-nacho-deprivation. I had to read my name on the website two or three times to be sure that I wasn't hallucinating or developing cataracts from the inevitable diabetic coma washing over me from the cotton candy I'd downed earlier.

A note on the chapbook: it was completed in 2.5 months of solitary confinement with caffeine pressure-wash at my favorite table in the Pitts Theology library. It was completed with tears and prayer and irreverence and gratitude. It was completed with a I've-got-nothing-to-lose kind of laissez-faire. It was completed without expectation.

Life is like that, isn't it? When we truly drop all expectation, the most exciting things happen. I've prayed for months (years really) for God to open a door or slam it in my face when it comes to writing. I am not delusional. I know this prize is not a guarantee of anything; I am still unknown and unpublished and unrefined. I am still a nobody. But that's okay with me. Even more important to me than winning, is this: God's undeserved love, a prayer unambiguously answered, holding true gratitude in my hands. I don't care how cheeseball or backward that makes me sound. I don't care how my career flies or flops if I can carry that gratitude, this moment in my heart forever.