Professor Erica Bernheim Wins Poetry Prize, Collection to be Published
Dr. Erica Bernheim at a reading in Chicago.
LAKELAND, Fla. (Sept. 8, 2011) – It’s difficult these days for poets. Gone are the days when poets were recognizable public figures, like Robert Frost, and their lines memorized by school children. Now, getting a poetry collection published is so hard, Dr. Erica Bernheim, assistant professor of English at Florida Southern, almost gave up on her dream of seeing her manuscript published.
At a conference in North Carolina in June, she told some fellow writers, “I’m done. I’m so discouraged.” Then she went back to her hotel and found an email telling her that she had won the top prize in a poetry contest from 42 Miles Press. In addition to receiving $1,000, her collection, The Mimic Sea, will be published next year.
“I couldn’t sleep. When it was 3 a.m., I called my father, who was in Italy. It’s the culmination of something I’ve been working on for years,” said Bernheim, who is in her fourth year of teaching at FSC.
Not only will Bernheim have her manuscript published, she will give a book tour next fall, with readings scheduled at Indiana University in South Bend, home of 42 Miles Press; New York; Chicago; and Iowa City, Iowa.
Bernheim became interested in poetry as an undergraduate. The American poet Robert Creeley was an early inspiration. Bernheim was drawn to his natural and accessible style. She says in her own poetry she favors “the dramatic monologue” and employs a variety of poetic meters and verse-arrangements.
“I’ve tried to not limit myself to just one voice. I like the idea of inhabiting different points of view,” she said.
A portion of her poem Car Rolls Off Clay Wade Bailey Bridge reads:
And what of the driver, trapped between metal
abandoned, outside of town, it comes to us
a tree seen near water. …
Bernheim comes from a family of English teachers. Her father, Mark Bernheim, is a professor at Miami University in Ohio, where Bernheim earned her undergraduate degree. She went on to receive an M.F.A. from the prestigious Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa and her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
At FSC, she teaches two creative writing courses, one on poetry and one on fiction, and a course that teaches multiple genres of creative writing, including nonfiction and drama. Bernheim notes that poetry’s lack of visibility in culture means her students are unfamiliar with even the most respected contemporary poets, but that is where her role as a teacher comes in.
“If you’re publishing fiction, there is always the possibility of movie rights. With poetry, the stakes are much lower. Even poets laureate have to keep their day jobs. But for me, that’s not a bad thing. I always wanted to be a teacher. I can be an example to my students,” she said.