In 1989, Yahya Frederickson joined the Peace Corps seeking adventure, and after 17 years since returning to the states, his collection of poetry “The Gold Shop of Ba-’Ali” is a treasure now able to be shared with many.
The MSUM English professor’s passion for creative writing fueled him to begin writing poetry about Yemen, the location he was assigned while in the Peace Corps. He found himself transforming his poetry from being in the tourist role to being a part of the culture.
“I’m becoming part of peoples’ lives and they’re a part of mine,” Frederickson said about his thoughts during the writing process. “Even though their culture is so different, I’m seeing humanity under those veils and behind those daggers. My poems were really getting to a deeper level.”
After returning from Yemen in 1996, Frederickson knew he had to continue his education because of his love for learning. He attended the University of North Dakota and received his doctorate in English.
A large part of the collection was used in his dissertation, and he finds himself creating poetry about Yemen to this day.
“It’s almost 20 years ago,” Frederickson said. “I’m still going back to that motherload to mine interesting, I think, things that are still striking until this day. That’s the weird thing to me – I haven’t talked about everything.”
For people who have a relationship with words, the feeling of being so close but not close enough is common.
The market is very small, and the only way to get published is to send a manuscript of poems to different contests. Because funding decreased for literary arts in the past years, literary presses are extremely selective when choosing books to publish.
Frederickson knows what it’s like to come close. This specific collection of poetry has been a finalist 12 times since he began entering contests in 1996.
After almost 20 years of submitting his manuscript multiple times a year to various presses, revising and editing his collection of poems and receiving helpful advice and critiques of his work, he has won.
Frederickson is the winner of the 2013 Idaho Prize for Poetry, in which he received $1,000 and his first full-length collection of poetry, “The Gold Shop of Ba-’Ali,” published by the independent literary publisher Lost Horse Press.
The co-founder of Copper Canyon Press and poet himself, Sam Hamill, was the final judge for the contest, and he found treasures within Frederickson’s collection of poetry.
“The Gold Shop of Ba-’Ali delivers us into an Arabic world stripped of exoticism. A world made palpable by mundane reality. An ordinary world made luminous by the vision and speech of a genuinely gifted poet,” Hamill said, according to the Lost Horse Press website.
2013 has proven to be a welcoming year for Frederickson, who also received a $5,000 writing fellowship from Lake Region Arts Council based in Fergus Falls and the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis.
This money is used to support him in his work to create more books of poetry, and get them ready for publication.
“It’s hard to keep up with creative work while doing teaching duties…hard to find extra time,” Frederickson said. “I think I’ll still be working on that the rest of my career: getting better at it and faster. I look at a word and can’t help but take my time with it.”
BY JESSICA JASPERSON