2011 Winner of the Poetry Award–Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan 2002-04) author of Lake, and Other Poems of Love in a Foreign Land.
Winners of the Peace Corps Writers Awards receive a certificate and small cash award.
Jeff Fearnside taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan from 2002 to 2004. After completing his service, he remained in Central Asia for another two years, marrying his Kazakhstani bride Valentina. Their courtship and his experiences in general while living overseas were explored in his chapbook Lake, and Other Poems of Love in a Foreign Land. Most of his work since Peace Corps has involved education in some way, from managing the Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to teaching at Western Kentucky University and Prescott College. As a Visiting Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at WKU, he was nominated for a Faculty Award for Teaching, one of that institution’s highest honors.
He has also continued to write and publish widely. Most recently, his work has appeared in About Place Journal (fiction), Qarrtsiluni (poetry), and ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (creative nonfiction). New Madrid nominated his essay on the Aral Sea for a Pushcart Prize, while the portrait of his host father in Kazakhstan has just been re-released in The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing). He currently lives with his wife and two cats in Prescott, Arizona, where he is at work on a novel. You may visit his website at www.Jeff-Fearnside.com.
A poem of Jeff Fearnside from his award winning collection:
Sitting in a small cafe in Kazakhstan, watching Turkish TV,
speaking in broken Russian and eating a decent imitation
of an American cheeseburger (though it tastes like spiced lamb),
I feel strangely at home. The sign outside says “Fast Food” in English,
but, like those you know to get a job here, it’s all relative.
I like this place because it’s not fast, it doesn’t give me diarrhea,
and because the Turkish men wear their hair
a little longer, like me, wear mustaches and even beards
so that I look like them and not an American.
I’m glad that I can’t find American TV here,
that the mumblings of commercials-
that the rumblings of war-are dubbed in other tongues.
Tonight I’m happy to watch the scantily clothed singer
swing her mama mia hips, those hips my bearded brothers
would do handstands for to get a handful of.
Shakira. The remote lies flat on the counter.
This is Address, my new favorite cafe. But which address is my home?
My parents’, though half a lifetime has passed since I lived there?
My brother’s, my stateside contact where all my junk mail goes?
Or the crumbling Soviet-era apartment building I call my own?
Shakira stops shaking. The immobile remote is picked up
and a new channel picked out, first the European CNN, always good
for brushing up on my cricket, rugby and soccer,
then-quickly-a German cooking show,
then back to the Turkish channel Haber,
where a man speaks to a group of serious-faced men.
I enjoy thinking he’s saying, “What the hell
are those Americans doing?” and I’m half-afraid he is.
But I blend in here with my bearded brothers.
Even on the street, I’m often asked if I’m Turkish,
Greek, Indian, Spanish, Italian. I always answer yes.
They don’t ask me for money then
or what I think of the president. I sometimes give
a few coins to the widowed babushki at their makeshift
sidewalk homes, but even when I see their noses
running down their faces, I never give my opinion or advice.
Please don’t bomb Iraq. I met an Iraqi family last summer-
we played soccer together, swam in a glacial lake,
and when our group ran out of water, they gave us theirs
and delicious fresh apricots. They spoke perfect English
and were learning Russian, too. They sounded just like us.
I remember this now amidst shaking hips,
cheeseburgers and half a dozen languages.
I live in the world. Please don’t bomb my home.