Alexa Doran's collection "DM Me, Mother Darling" earns highly competitive May Sarton Poetry Prize

By Taylor Moreno

Alexa Doran let out a loud shout, and another sound followed hers. She looked at her son Dante, whose shriek echoed hers, a smile painted on his lips.

Only 4 years old, he didn’t fully understand the implications of his mother’s excitement. He didn’t know that Doran had just won her biggest writing award yet—the 2020 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. Regardless, it’s this innocent joy that Doran remembers most.

“The best part of finding out I won was that I was with my son, Dante, at the time, who is the living force behind the whole collection,” she says.

Doran won the prize for her book, DM Me, Mother Darling. In 2019, FSU doctoral student Dorsey Olbrich won the May Sarton Poetry Prize for her book Plunder. With two English department winners in a row, it’s no wonder that Sarah Bauhan, director of Bauhan Publishing and founder of the May Sarton Poetry Prize, said that FSU “must [have] a mighty fine poetry program.”

After Doran found out that DM Me, Mother Darling had won, the next few days passed in a blur. Her son relayed the story to everyone they encountered—a hotel concierge, a customer next to them in line at Walgreens—and he made sure they all knew that “Mommy won a prize, and not just any prize, the May Sarton Poetry Prize.”

This highly coveted prize is awarded to the most successful book-length collection of poetry out of a pool of 500 worldwide applicants. Along with a $1,000 prize, Bauhan Publishing will publish Doran’s manuscript next year. With rave reviews from contest judge and fellow writer Nils Michals, the choice seemed simple.

DM Me, Mother Darling reminds us that once beyond the wreckage of lost, abandoned lives, something underneath emerges: a voice born from that terrible beauty,” Michals wrote.

J.M. Barrier’s Peter Pan inspired DM Me, Mother Darling, Doran says, but her collection of poems turns this classic plot on its head, focusing on the story of Mother Darling finding out that her children have disappeared. This allows Doran to create an “emotional arc [that] comes less from the unfolding of plot, and more from the unfolding of people,” she says.

Doran says one of her biggest sources of inspiration comes from a variety of artistic movements, including Dadaism. The women of Dada, a collective of surrealist artists, inspired her past collection of poems, The Octopus Breath on Her Neck. Poet Anne Sexton’s collection Transformations was a leading source of inspiration for DM Me, Mother Darling.

“Sexton’s collection uses fairy tales for the purpose of social commentary and that is partially what I was hoping to accomplish with DM Me, Mother Darling,” Doran says.

While her son serves as the driving force behind her collection, she received inspiration from others in FSU’s Creative Writing Program, including Eleanor Boudreau, a fellow doctoral student and recent winner of the 2019 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. A night of pizza, cheap champagne, and poetry talk was a pre-COVID-19 Saturday night ritual for the two writers. They spent hours rearranging poems to enforce a through-narrative and piece together the collection to help Doran’s manuscript become all that it is.

“Alexa helped me with my work and my book and my life in so many ways that I was happy to help her with her book,” Boudreau says.

Doran adds that two other program colleagues, Dorsey Craft and Tanya Grae, were influential in her writing process as well. One of Doran’s mentors and friend, FSU English Senior Lecturer Barbara Hamby, says she admires Doran’s humble approach to writing.

“Her ego never gets in the way of making her poems stronger,” Hamby says. “And that shows in her book.” With a great support system and her ability to take creative initiative, Hamby says Doran created a work that “moves through time and space.”

The judges in 2020 for the May Sarton Prize agreed with that praise.

Taylor Moreno is a senior double majoring in English, with a focus in creative writing, and studio art.

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