History, English and Fir Acres Writing Workshop Administrative Coordinator Amy Baskin recently received her third Pushcart Prize nomination.
Pushcart Press, an influential publishing house known for its famous Pushcart Prize, publishes their prize winners in an annual anthology. The literary prize is intended for authors whose works are published in small press, making it a prestigious honor for the writers and their publishers. Baskin was nominated by Timberline Review for her poem “Self-Portrait as Comfort Food,” which was published in the journal’s 11th issue on Aug. 5.
Since she only published two pieces in journals last year, she was surprised by the nomination.
“I was not expecting it,” Baskin said. “It’s a lovely honor. And there are so many wonderful writers that were published in (Pushcart), so it’s really, really special.”
The nominated poem resulted from one of her regular free writes, in which she recalled a time she had to explain the illegality of a question about her body from a potential employer. Though intrusive, the question was commonplace in Japan, and Baskin
said it was awkward to explain this cultural difference as a white woman.
“I was reading a lot about the body, my body, and then past experiences with self-advocacy,” Baskin said. “I remembered a story where I was working at a Japanese travel agency. I’d lived in Japan and worked in Japan for three years and then returned to San Francisco. It’s just a poem where I reflect on a job interview I had where my soon-to-be boss asked me if I was planning to get pregnant soon.”
Additionally, “Self-Portrait as Comfort Food” is a concrete poem, which means the text takes the shape of the topic of the piece.
“I was having so much fun with how I could articulate something in the shape of my body, and I actually played a lot with it with a spine, like a lumbar spine and everything,” Baskin said. “It really came down to a well, I don’t know what this looks like to anyone, but I think that this looks like the front of a woman or a womb-bearer. So I left it like that, and then I believe that my editor Marian Anderson at Timberline review didn’t touch a thing.”
As a Best of the Net nominee, an Oregon Literary Arts fellow (2019 Edna L. Homes Fellowship in Young Readers) and an Oregon Poetry Association prize winner, this is not Baskin’s first experience in the literary world.
However, writing was not always a love for her. Baskin, who describes herself as a “voracious reader,” was always connected to words and language. She was gifted a journal as a young girl which helped her express her feelings and begin exploring her craft.
It was academic writing that caused her apprehension.
“I was trying to – consciously or unconsciously – write what I thought people wanted me to write,” Baskin said. “That would really tie me up and freeze me and I had a lot of procrastination and perfectionism associated with that. I think for me personally, I don’t know for others, but I think it comes down to fear and shame.”
It was not until Baskin’s senior year at McGill University Montreal that she pushed through these reservations.
“(There) was this freedom, and suddenly I could articulate myself and my thoughts unencumbered, like I didn’t feel inhibited anymore,” Baskin said. “That was a great breakthrough, honestly. It took me a long time. So I guess I’d say everyone’s a writer, everyone can write and go easy on yourselves.”
In April, Baskin’s first poetry collection, titled “Night Hag,” will be published by Unsolicited Press and will be available at Aubrey R. Watzek Library. Additionally, Baskin will be reading at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ 2023 conference in Seattle in March. To see more of her work, see “Hysterical Cake,” which is Baskin’s first chapbook — which is a small paperback booklet of poems.
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