"Are you L. S. Klatt?"
"Did you write Cloud of Ink?"
"Well, I'm pleased to inform you ..."
If you see Prof. Klatt anytime soon, you might wonder why he is grinning so widely. The reason is that he has just won the Iowa Poetry Prize, one of the nation's most prestigious prizes for poets.
Prof. Klatt's manuscript, entitled Cloud of Ink, was chosen as one of two winners for this year's prize. The volume will be published by the University of Iowa Press in spring of 2011.
Klatt received a message on his voice mail at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night from the director of the press.
"That seemed strange to me," says Klatt. "I thought maybe she needed more copies of the manuscript or something." Klatt called her back--the director was on vacation at the Grand Canyon, and had just heard from the judge. She had wanted to call the winners right away.
Klatt says his family caught on to the good news before he did. "My wife and mom and brother all happened to be with me when I was on the phone. My wife was jumping up and down, but I couldn't believe it. The director gave me all sorts of details, but after I hung up I didn't remember anything she said."
Klatt did not expect to win this prize, especially so close on the heels of the Juniper Prize he won in 2008. That prize, for his first poetry volume, Interloper, came at the end of a very long road.
"I think I submitted that manuscript to publishers and competitions at least 50 times. It was a finalist at least 8 times before finally winning. And all the while I continued to revise it."
Cloud of Ink came together much more quickly, says Klatt, at least partly because of the foundation laid by that first volume.
"Having the experience of putting together a volume with a publisher was very helpful this time around. I conceptualized Cloud of Ink much earlier in the process partly in order to apply for a Calvin Research Fellowship for this coming spring."
Most of the poems for the new volume were written over the past year. Klatt says a trip to Seattle last summer was especially inspiring.
"Poets need to find the things that give us energy and inspire us. We need to keep getting re-enthused."
When Klatt entered the Iowa Prize competition, he only hoped for some good feedback. "I thought of it as a dry run, and I intended to keep working on the volume over the next academic year."
Klatt explains that for this volume, he aimed to make his poems more direct and accessible than the poems in his more experimental Interloper. As a result of this aim, many of the poems are concerned with language and writing. "They play with ideas of transparency and obscurity." Occasionally, the poems play with the image of a squid: cloud of ink, squid, you could see the connection.
The official press release describes Klatt's poems with some fabulous prose: "Under the heat of inquiry, under the pressure of metaphor, the poems in this collection liquefy, bend, and serpentine as they seek sometimes a new and sometimes an ancient destination."
Congratulations to Prof. Klatt. We're all grinning with you!
Click here for a sample poem from the winning volume.