August 30, 2019
Lauren Shapiro, Assistant Professor of English, Wins 2019 Editor’s Choice in CSU Poetry Center Book Competition
By Angela Januzzi
In late July the Cleveland State University Poetry Center announced the 2019 results of its prestigious book competition, selecting five winners for publication from nearly 1,000 manuscripts. The new poetry collection "Arena" from Lauren Shapiro, assistant professor of English in the Carnegie Mellon University Department of English, was selected as the Editor’s Choice.
Shapiro’s first book of poetry "Easy Math" (Sarabande Books, 2013) won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize, the Debut-litzer Prize and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Since then, Shapiro has been working on the manuscript for Arena, before submitting it this past spring to the CSU competition.
Arena uses the narrative thread of a father’s several attempts at suicide to engage with the process of grieving as well as the idea of death and trauma as spectacle. As the narrator, a mother, works through the layers of reactions to this personal trauma (anger, grief, questioning, alienation), she is also understanding the work of spectatorship, and indeed of citizenship, as a passive acceptance of the degrading effect of such violence. “I am particularly interested in how people reconcile personal trauma with a larger political consciousness, and the way that violence can be understood differently through the lens of citizenship,” said Shapiro. “I have never been one for straightforward autobiographical writing, so it was a challenge for me to process a personal trauma through writing in a way that didn’t feel self-indulgent—that went beyond the personal nature of the tragedy. I wanted to see it for what it was—an example in a larger scheme of the world.”
Though Shapiro said Arena is a significantly more serious book in its tone, approach, and themes than Easy Math, she remains interested in how tonal shifts, particularly humor, can be utilized in her poems. She acknowledges that we don’t live in one mindset, with one particular emotion, constantly, and that she wanted to create a range of tonal responses in the book. Similarly, she wanted to experiment with various approaches to form within the collection, ultimately working to recreate the partial understanding we have in moments of crisis.
Guggenheim-Award-winning poet Marie Howe writes of Shapiro’s work, “[She] can downshift from the sublime to the profane and back again in less than five seconds. She can glimpse the mystery of what we might call the big picture, and then narrow her eyes to the quotidian sorrows—this capacity holds a worldview that is radically crisp and compassionate.”
Arena by Lauren Shapiro will be published in September 2020 from CSU Poetry Center.