B Y K I R S T E N W I L L E
A local musician and
student Craig Arnold
tries his hand at poetry
and ups his ante
with prizes and praise.
in black leather pants and an oversized floral-print shirt, Craig
Arnold pouts and wails into a microphone before the intimate crowd
at Burt's Tiki Lounge, a lesser-known private club on State Street.
The other members of Iris, an alternative-rock band of local indistinction,
exchange knowing smiles at the antics of their singer and songwriter.
The audience responds to the music only intermittently, unaware
that they're witnessing a performance of America's most promising
A drifter, or a permanent house-guest,
he scrabbles through the stones,
and can even scale
the flaked palm-bark, towing along his latest
lodging, a cast-off periwinkle shell.
Isn't he weighed down?
Does his house not pinch?
The sea urchin, a distant relative,
must haul his spiny armor each slow inch
by tooth only sometimes, it's best to live
nowhere, and yet be anywhere at home.
the riddle of his weird housekeeping
does he remember how he wears each welcome Out in its turn,
and turns himself out creeping unbodied through the sand,
grinding and rude,
and does he feel a kind of gratitude?
A 30-year-old doctoral candidate in the U's creative writing program,
Arnold is the 1998 winner of the coveted Yale Younger Poets Competition.
Though he's not the only musician turned poet the late Jim
Morrison of the Doors self-published a collection of ineffectual
verse, and neo-folk singer Jewel Kilcher is now raking in profits
for her latest poetic endeavor he's undeniably the most talented.
In July, Yale University Press informed Arnold that his book-length
collection "Shells" had been declared the winner of its annual poetry
contest for unpublished writers under the age of 40. Founded in
1919 to publish literature with "the fairest promise for the future
of American poetry," the competition has launched the careers of
the nation's finest poets, including Adrienne Rich, former poet
laureate Robert Hass, Carolyn Forche, and the judge of this year's
competition, W.S. Merwin. For a budding writer, there is no higher
accolade. The award is a crowning accomplishment for both Arnold
and the creative writing program where he honed his skills.
Merwin, who declined to name a winner last year because he said
no entry, in its entirety, merited the award, calls Arnold's 27-poem
manuscript a "gifted collection of daring writing." Traditional
in form, the poems engage a range of timeless but contemporary subjects,
from love, desire, and intimacy to death, loss, and distance. Yale
University Press will publish "Shells" in April 1999.
Many of Arnold's poems are narrative, conversational, and written
in rhymed couplets. He says he imagines readers will find his work
"classical, in an in-your-face kind of way." Though he could not
point to any particular influence on his work, he admits to greatly
admiring the English romantic poet Lord Byron and the Roman poet
Horace for their polish, ease, humor, and generosity.
Arnold has been writing poetry since completion of his undergraduate
degree at Yale in 1989. He says that he was shocked by the award,
though it was not the first honor in recognition of his talent
nor was it the last.
In September, "Shells" won first place in the poetry collection
category of the Utah Arts Council's fortieth annual Utah Original
Writing Competition. Arnold also received second place in the competition's
poetry selection category.
Two years ago, he received the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship
which allowed him to spend nearly half the year 1996 writing in
Sanlucar de Barrameda, a small port at the mouth of the Guadalquivir
River in Spain's southern province, Andalusia. And his work has
been featured in numerous publications, such as Poetry, The Paris
Review, The Yale Review, and The New Republic.
In January, Arnold was notified that his poem "Hot" was selected
for inclusion in the 1998 edition of Scribner's annual anthology,
Best American Poetry, along with a poem by U English professor and
head of the writing program, Jacqueline Osherow, with whom Arnold
A Guggenheim fellow with three volumes of published poetry. Osherow
says Arnold is a "wonderful poet and student," though she wasn't
always sure he'd realize his potential in those directions.
But Arnold's willfulness to be different and think for himself
didn't prevent him from listening to suggestions and carefully weighing
critical reviews of his work. "That's one of the great things about
him as a student, his ability to take suggestions. He kept pushing
and worked very hard. He's very ambitious and takes enormous risks,"
She attributes much of Arnold's success to his dedication as a
serious student of literature. "I think that his devotion to academics
shows in his poems, which are very sophisticated. We're very proud
of him." she says. Although his extracurricular endeavors make him
an atypical scholar, Arnold's success reflects the writing program's
philosophy: the more one reads, the more one understands what is
possible to achieve, and the greater the likelihood of producing
something of excellence and literary value.
Arnold, who says he plans to continue writing, will no doubt continue
to produce meaningful poetry. Meanwhile, he says he intends to stick
around Sale Lake City with his wife and 4-year-old, perform with
his band, and look for a university teaching position, which his
recent accomplishments practically assure him.