Idyllwild Arts Academy sophomore Alex Bishop, creative writing major, is the next speaker at the academy-sponsored Idy Talks. The series is part of IAA’s “Art in Society” program designed to foster students’ commitment to using their art to contribute to society.
Alex’s talk is timely. She just won a prestigious national award from the Poetry Society of America, the nation’s oldest literary organization devoted to poetry. Founded in 1910 in New York City, past members of PSA have included Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens.
Alex won PSA’s annual Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award for best student poem of 2017. The PSA’s annual awards are among the most prestigious honors available to poets. They offer emerging and established poets recognition at all stages of their careers.
Alex is thoughtful and gracious. She answers questions about herself and her art clearly and articulately. She noted that, as a child emerging from her parents’ difficult divorce, her writing, always in poetry, was personal and self-revealing. “Writing has helped me with so many issues in my life,” she said. “Then, as I moved beyond the divorce, I began to be comfortable in my own issues of coming out and transgender identity.”
Alex said she had originally planned to attend a traditional prep school such as Cate [in Carpenteria] or Thatcher [in Ojai] but that she felt an immediate “click” and connection when she toured the IAA campus. “I had this gut feeling, a ‘click’ in the sense that this is where I belong,” she confided. Now in her second year at IAA, Alex said her gut instinct has proven to be correct. “It’s fantastic here,” she said. “This is not a polarized environment. The students are very accepting, of gay, transgender, anything. It’s easy for students to be here, without having to be defensive, and simply concentrate on their art. “
Alex won for her poem “Ever Met a Human Spork?” For those who don’t know what a spork is, it is a hybrid eating utensil combining the elements of both spoon and fork. In her poem, Alex opens a window into how it is to feel duality of identity.
She states in her poem’s opening lines who she was, is and is becoming. “It’s having short hair after private school; it’s hiding tubes of mascara atop bathroom cupboards; it’s two dollar razors; it’s not singing happy birthday when you turn thirteen because of thicker vocal chords; it’s waiting for people to walk out of the restroom before walking in and then rushing through your makeup; it’s the fear of gaining weight; it’s the fear of losing weight; it’s gaining five pounds on your stomach not your hips; it’s dressing androgynous because you can’t fill out the tops, and then claiming it’s that you just have an avant-garde fashion sense . . .”
But it’s at the end of her poem that Alex, who appears to have a studied and assured poise and sense of self, shows the emotional cost of her brave journey: “ . . . it’s always being the big spoon; it’s wearing crop tops because your stomach is the only part of yourself you like, and yet still feel bloated; it’s deleting Instagram comments from people who think you’re disgusting; it’s associating duct tape with pain; it’s having a life expectancy of twenty-eight.”
Asked about poetry as her medium of choice, Alex said, “It’s because poetry [compared to other literary forms] does not have any guidelines. When you begin to impose guidelines you realize they don’t apply.” She talked of an IAA course last year, “Poetry Experiments” taught by Alice Bolin, in which she realized how many different types of poems there are and can be. “Now I have a catalogue of references,” she said. “With all that has been done before, why don’t I try something new?”
As to what comes next, after graduation from IAA, she deferred, saying she has not decided. “Idyllwild Arts provides such a strong foundation you can later choose the direction you want to go,” Alex noted. “I’m also interested in photography. I’m interested, too, in finance. Whatever I’m doing, I will continue to write.”
At the “Art in Society, Idy Talks” event, Alex will discuss her craft and her evolution as an artist — her then, her now and her future. Her presentation begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at Silver Pines Lodge. There is a wine and cheese reception preceding her talk at 5:30 p.m. Admission is open to all and there is no charge to attend.