Local Poet starts small, wins big with 'chapbook'

Poet and Dorchester resident Anna Ross enjoys her backyard with her daughter Ita Berg. Photo by Kendra Stanton Lee.

When trying to establish oneself in the publishing industry, it may be best to start small. As small as, say, a chapbook. And what exactly is a chapbook?

Ask Dorchester poet Anna Ross who was awarded first prize in the 2008 New Women's Voices chapbook contest by Finishing Line Press.

A chapbook, says Ross, is "sort of a mini-book." Ross' chapbook, Hawk Weather, will contain the first two sections of a longer poetry manuscript she hopes to publish in its entirety in the future.

Ross, 33, got word about the prize in June and, along with an award of $1,000, her chapbook will be published later this year.

Hawk Weather is largely autobiographical.

"The manuscript follows the arc of several years of my life from having a relationship, getting married, going through a lot of difficulty with pregnancy. And then later in the book, the problem was resolved," she says, as she glances sideways at her now one year-old daughter, Ita.

As Ross speaks about her life, her face lights up as she recalls the people who championed her through the trials and triumphs. She credits her father, Dr. Charles Ross, a professor of English at the University of Hartford, for early poetic inspirations. "My parents read me children's poems…and I remember my father saying, in a very professorial mode, 'You look at a loose end, Anna. Go off and write a poem,' and I would do it!" she said amusedly.

"I never thought growing up, 'Oh, I am going to be a poet,' but it was always something that I did. And then in high school I won a few student competitions. But by the time I went to college, I was really focused on my writing," said Ross, who attended Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Ross also thanks her husband, Dorchester native Andrew Berg, to whom she has dedicated her chapbook. She is especially grateful for Berg's support through graduate school, which, at first may have seemed like an ill-timed pursuit.

When Ross began work towards her master's of fine arts in poetry at Columbia University in 2001, she and Berg had only been married one month. She arrived to New York just as Sept. 11 occurred. Ross was living in New York four out of the seven days, and commuting back to Dorchester to spend the rest with Berg who stayed here working as a master carpenter. By the second semester, though, she and Berg both relocated to New York. They remained in New York until 2004 when they returned to Dorchester. Since then, Ross has been enjoying the space that this city, and, more intimately, her neighborhood afford her as an artist.

A member of the Dorchester Artists Collaborative and an instructor at Boston University, Grub Street Writing Center, and Stonehill College, Ross is as active in seeking poetic inspiration as she is in encouraging it among her students."There's an incredibly vibrant writing community here. It's a little bit harder to find your way into," she said. However, "so many people have been very welcoming to me.

"But in general, I feel as though I have a little bit more space. I can go out, go to readings and feel like I'm making some connections, but I can have time to be at home and do the actual work, which is important. I mean, you can't be a writer who only goes to readings," she said.

Does Ross find Dorchester to be a poetic place?

"It's not like living in the Moors," she said, laughing. "But it does draw forth creativity. There are a lot of artists working around here. It's poetic in that sense. It's a creative community. For me, anyway, it's a place where I can write. It's a haven."

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