Although he came to writing later in life than many of the students he teaches, a UGA faculty member recently won $10,000 in the National Poetry Series' yearly open competition.
Dr. Ed Pavlić, a UGA professor of English and creative writing, has been named one of the five winners of the national poetry competition for his book “Let’s Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno.”
Pavlić’s selection entails not only the cash prize, but also the guaranteed publication of his work. In 2012, he won the same distinction for his book “Visiting Hours at the Color Line,” which was published in 2013.
“I’ve been through this recently and it’s obviously quite a surprise and a pleasure to be involved in it again,” he said.
Each, year, the NPS receives about 1,200 submissions for this competition. After a tedious process, about 50 finalists are sent on to the final judges, who review each piece without knowing any information whatsoever about its author.
“I like the idea of sending this stuff in anonymously,” Pavlić said. “I like that the world of ‘who knows who’ connections is put at bay and the work can speak for itself, on its own merit.”
Pavlić describes the content of his new book as an examination of the relationship between the public and private sides of human existence.
“The book oscillates between very public, documentary visions of what life is about in a world we can easily see, and then poems that exist in worlds that are much more private than that, inside my own house and my own head,” he said. “It’s about trying to look at how our public life relates to our private world, through the lives of a select number of people whom I know very closely, one of whom of course is me.”
These personal experiences are central to Pavlić’s motivation for writing both “Inferno” and all of his poetry.
“For me, poems, and all writing, is always a meditation, a pursuit of clarity on one’s experience and the world one lives in,” he said. “There are various dimensions of my own life or the life of other people in the news that just announce themselves as conundrums, riddles, mysteries, and writing a poem, you can, from whatever point of view, pursue a certain clarity about that situation.”
Although he is now a professor of creative writing, Pavlić never took classes in the subject while in college or graduate school. He never considered writing something to pursue until he was 30 years-old.
“Coming out of the trajectory that I came, from a working class family, I just never knew that creative writing was a thing that existed,” Pavlić said. “It was a planet I had never been on. It’s shocking how old and far advanced I was in graduate school before ever really entertaining the reality of this, and now I work in it.”
At the moment, in addition to editing “Inferno” for its projected fall 2015 publication date, Pavlić is working on two manuscripts about the life and work of 20th century African-American writer James Baldwin.
One of the books focuses on the importance of music to many of Baldwin’s works, a trait that Pavlić’s own work exhibits.
“I think music is one of the most complex and rich and valuable records of who we are as a species,” Pavlić said. “A writer can learn a great deal from music. Sometimes you find yourself just hearing a song and saying ‘whoa, it’d be a piece of writing just to translate that onto a page!’ Not by copying down the lyrics, but by responding to the story that it’s conveying.”
Pavlić characterizes himself as an admirer of all music, but admits he has a particular passion for African-American styles.
“African-American music is what it’s all about for me, from the time I was little till the time I die. It’s just a record of who we are that there’s no equal to, in my mind. I love all kinds of it, I love the modern jazz, I love the soul singers and the Gospel from which it comes, and some of that blues stuff is good. The African-American musical continuum is where my ear’s home really is,” he said.
“Let’s Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno” will be Pavlić’s seventh volume of poetry and criticism and will be published by Fence Books, thanks to the arrangements made with the company by the NPS. Pavlić appreciates this facet of what the NPS competition does because he feels it helps sustain poetry in a culture where money usually wins out over artistry.
“If American culture is one where, in my eye, a disastrous level of importance is accorded to money, then we need to be able to promote pieces of the culturewhich aren’t about money,” he said. “The NPS is one of these things where the culture really can speak for itself.”