"Word Guy" Alan Michael Parker Must Work His Way Through Every Prize-Winning Poem

Despite the increasing acclaim it garners, Alan Michael Parker's writing doesn't come any easier for him-it's work. Almost every morning he sits down in a quiet upstairs room with the shades drawn and struggles with some lines of poetry or paragraphs of prose, rewriting again and again, working word by word.

"Even the poems I like best trouble me relentlessly," said Parker, a Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Davidson College since 1998. "It's the challenge of being a perfectionist combined with the realization that perfection is beyond reach."

But the challenge of the task and the joy of its completion are two sides of the same coin, and Parker wouldn't have it any other way. "The difficulty just makes me want to work harder," he stated.

While he considers a work completed as a victory in itself, the literary world has honored his writing with top awards. The latest is his third prize from Pushcart Press, this time for a poem titled "A Fable for Our Anniversary." The annual Pushcart Prizes recognizes outstanding poetry, prose and nonfiction published by small and independent presses. "I'm thrilled with the award," Parker said. "Publication alone is terrific, and inclusion in a ‘Best Of' anthology like Pushcart is an honor."

Parker has written three novels and six books of poetry, and has co-edited three scholarly works, The Routledge Anthology of Cross-Gendered Verse, Who's Who in 20th Century World Poetry, and The Imaginary Poets. In addition to the Pushcart Prizes, he has won the Fineline Prize from the Mid-American Review and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. His 2011 novel, Whale Man, is a finalist for the 2011 ForeWord Review's "Book of the Year" award in the category of literary fiction. He's now finishing another novel, The Committee on Town Happiness, which will appear in the summer of 2014.

His Pushcart Prize poem "A Fable for Our Anniversary" appeared originally in the University of Florida journal Subtropics. It will also appear in a new poetry collection titled Long Division which will be published this summer. That collection will also include his second Pushcart Prize-winning poem, titled "Family Math."

"A Fable for Our Anniversary" and several other poems in Long Division whimsically invoke the style and content of ancient fables. For these poems, Parker read widely in the works of Jean Follain and Aesop, among others. "A Fable for Our Anniversary" includes references to goods traded for other goods, silver candlesticks, magical creatures and wise men.

He shares his challenges with students in creative writing classes so they will understand what it takes to express oneself through the written word. One lesson he hopes they learn is that there's no way around the hard work. He said, "I'd like to be able to tell students at the end of a course that they've now learned to write poems. But they can really only hope to have written poems that have more complex problems that are harder to fix."

For a complete list of Alan Michael Parker's books and awards, visit www.amparker.com.


  • May 7, 2012