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Reeve's work receives national acclaim with Beloit Poetry Journal award

Kim Chaudoin | 

Photo of Anna Laura Reeve

If you are ever looking for poet Anna Laura Reeve (’08), chances are you will find her in the hills of East Tennessee, tending her garden, writing or engaged in the art of motherhood. 

But she will travel down the mountain and return to Lipscomb University on April 20 as the featured speaker for the 2023 Landiss Lecture. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in the Ezell Center’s Paul Rogers Board Room. The event is free and open to the public and there will be an author signing afterward.

Reeve, who majored in English at Lipscomb, won the Beloit Poetry Journal’s 2022 Adrienne Rich Award and was a finalist for the 2022 Ron Rash Award and the 2022 Heartwood Poetry Prize. She is also a two-time Pushcart nominee. 

Reeve’s poetry draws inspiration from the natural world around her and her life experiences. Her debut poetry collection, Reaching the Shore of the Sea of Fertility, from Belle Point Press, releases this month. In it, Reeve explores the tender, sometimes joyful, often dark and anxious journey into motherhood after the birth of her daughter eight years ago.

“When she was born, I had what I now understand was postpartum depression,” recalls Reeve. “It was undiagnosed. I was trying to be very self-sufficient and keep what I considered to be ‘my failures’ under wraps, while doing all of the good mother things. What a miserable three years that was.”

After taking a few years off from writing, Reeve felt called to write about  her journey.

“When I started writing again, I knew that I needed to write about that experience,” she says. “I wasn't sure how to frame it exactly, because it felt like one of the bigger experiences that I've had and was a little overwhelming.”

She ultimately returned to the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), a diagnostic tool commonly used to identify women who may have postpartum depression. It includes 10 screening questions that can indicate whether a parent has symptoms that are consistent with depression and anxiety during pregnancy and or following the birth of a child. Reeve said the questions helped frame her approach to writing about her struggles.

“This provided me with a structure and gave me the space to dive into some real things that happened,” she says. 

The young mother put her feelings and experiences to words in  the poem, “The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.”

“As I workshopped this poem with my friends, I found that a lot of my young mom friends read it and were moved to tears. They said, ‘This was my experience, too,” Reeve explains. 

Reeve submitted it to the Beloit Poetry Journal, one of the preeminent poetry journals in the nation, in their annual writing contest and was surprised to receive a call notifying her that she was the 2022 recipient of the publication’s Adrienne Rich Award.

“One of the editors I talked to told me that my poem spoke to the staff because some of them had had similar experiences,” says Reeve, who also holds a Master of Arts degree in literature and poetry writing from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. “I thought that was so cool that it had that impact but of course was saddened that so many people have experienced this kind of thing.” 

During the pandemic, Reeve’s thoughts turned to publishing a collection of her poems. She built on the success she’d had in placing poems at journals like, Beloit Poetry Journal and Cold Mountain Review, among others, and winning the Rich Award was a vote of confidence.

“I thought, ‘I want to do this, I think I can do this,’” admits Reeve. “I wanted to see if I would get some traction and it was very affirming to get such a good response.”

Reeve says she also finds inspiration in nature. Her home in the Southern Appalachian region provides endless fodder for her creativity. 

“The natural world, for me, is an inexhaustible source of inspiration…probably because I have lived near a lot of beautiful places in my life that have just incredible beauty, incredible biodiversity,” says Reeve. “I have been fortunate to exist very simply, in some of those places, and just soak in the beauty. As an adult, I appreciate so much, in a really deep way, the resilience of nature. That's a very inspiring thing for me, especially the older I get.”

Writing is something Reeve says she does to “help process the world and my experiences.”

“I have read a lot about adverse childhood experiences and how writing is one of the ways survivors of trauma can process and heal. I think like most people, I had just enough trouble in childhood that writing was a way to integrate all of the fragments of my life in a way that felt really healing,” Reeve reflects. “I got a lot of practice writing that way.”

Reading is also important to Reeve. “In high school and college, my life was rather circumscribed, for several reasons, but I had the opportunity to read a huge diversity of other people's work which was kind of a companion experience. I didn’t have money to travel and I wasn’t particularly courageous, but I was so curious about the world, and reading other people's writing is such a great and inexpensive way to learn about the world.” 

In addition to drawing upon her life’s experiences and nature, Reeve credits some of her professors with encouraging her to pursue her passion for writing. 

“I had some great teachers who really valued the kind of hard work that writing is, and helped me feel like I had something to say, and that I said it well,” she says. 

Reeve says Lipscomb English faculty members Matt Hearn and Dana Carpenter were particularly inspiring as a student. 

“I love them both so much. They were incredibly generous with their time and with their encouragement,” she says. “I can never repay them for that.” In addition, she says retired communications professor Paul Prill and Greg Carpenter also encouraged her in her writing. While a Lipscomb student, Reeve also was part of a LIFE course at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center where she was also inspired by Richard Goode, founder of the program.  

Her professors are also inspired by Reeve. 

“Anna Laura came along in my earliest days of teaching, and she was the kind of student I hadn't been trained to expect. Quiet but fully engaged, nuanced and hungry for more than what I was able to give in a collective classroom. So we built a mentorship beyond the classes she took with me,” recalls Dana Carpenter, associate professor of English at Lipscomb. “Though, if I'm honest, she brought more to me than I think I ever did to her, so I'm not sure who was mentoring whom.”

“It was clear from the beginning how talented she was as a writer, especially her poetry, but what really came through was her determination to learn more, to hone her craft, to read everything so she could engage with the world more completely, to see behind the curtain, if you will, and then be able to translate that experience into her work. And that's what readers will see in this debut collection of hers,” she continues. 

Presented by the Department of English and Modern Languages, the Landiss Lecture Series, Since the Lipscomb University’s Landiss Lecture Series began in 1984, such notable speakers as Bret Lott, George Garrett, Terry Kay, John Egerton, Wilma Dykeman, Robert Massie, Richard Marius, Jay Parini, and Robert Morgan have engaged the Middle Tennessee community in conversations that challenge the mind. The series was founded by Morris P. Landiss, longtime chair of the Lipscomb English Department, in hope of “challenging the minds of students and those in the community.