UW-Superior assistant professor awarded the John Rezmerski Manuscript Prize

UW-Superior assistant professor awarded the John Rezmerski Manuscript Prize

University of Wisconsin-Superior Assistant Professor of Writing Meg Muthupandiyan was recently awarded the John Rezmerski Manuscript Prize by the League of Minnesota Poets for her poetry volume, “Of the Earth and Other Desires.”

“I was delighted to hear ‘Of the Earth’ received the award,” said Muthupandiyan.  “I am currently completing another project, and the news was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t the book I anticipated having published this year.”

Muthupandiyan, who teaches nature writing, environmental advocacy in digital communities and creative non-fiction at UW-Superior, credits her grandmother for fostering her passion for poetry. 

“As a young child I found poetry a source of comfort and delight,” said Muthupandiyan. “My grandmother was a great lover of poetry and read to me often. In those still moments on her lap, I discovered the wonderous ways language can forge meaning.”

By age nine, Muthupandiyan was regularly writing as a contemplative practice. Her skills quickly advanced – to a point where it drew suspicion from a teacher.

“That year my teacher called my mother in for a conference, believing a poem I had submitted must have been copied from somewhere,” said Muthupandiyan. “It was, she said, ‘too mature a voice to be a third grader’s.’ My mother showed her the notebooks and blank books I had filled with illustrated poetry.

“To her credit, after the meeting, the teacher sat down with me, offered both an apology for her mistrust and praise for what she called ‘my gift.’ It was an important moment – the first time I became aware that I had any particular acuity for anything, or for that matter, that what I had to say could possibly give someone else pause.”

That elementary school encounter has stayed with Muthupandiyan and is part of the knowledge she brings to the classroom.

“Much of my own approach to teaching finds its roots in this experience,” she said. “I, too, am often surprised by delight at the rich interiority and creative approaches of my students, but instead of leaning into disbelief, I celebrate this wonder. When giving feedback, I invest time in naming their skills as writers and telling them how their work works on me as a reader.”

In developing her own style, Muthupandiyan, who is a 2024 George Greenia Pilgrimage Fellow at the Institute for Pilgrimage Studies at William and Mary, incorporated multiple methods to convey her message.

“I am a free verse poet who uses a variety of forms, including the lyric, the ecstatic traditions, elegy, apostrophic poetry and dramatic monologue,” said Muthupandiyan. “These terms mean very little to those outside the literary arts, however, so I prefer to describe my poetry style as a form of midwifery, delivering each small moment into the nurturing arms of the attention that birthed it.”

Within the pages of “Of the Earth and Other Desires,” that styling is on full display as the manuscript explores public places as the loci of intimate experience.”

“Each poem was written as a sort of field study of a place and a life form therein revealing their own wisdom, their own poetic sensibility,” said Muthupandiyan. “The collection is called a poetic phenology because all but two of the poems in the collection arose through my observation of the seasonal emergence of natural phenomena during walks, pilgrimages and hikes.

“The judge of the John Rezmerski Manuscript Competition, poet Shirley Balance Blackwell, calls ‘Of the Earth’ a poetry geocache because I provide GPS coordinates for each of the places which inspired the poems. I think that’s apt,” said Muthupandiyan.

“Of the Earth and Other Desires” will be published this spring. Muthupandiyan will be reading from the book at the League of Minnesota Poets’ Spring Conference in Duluth, Minnesota, April 19 to 20.

UW-Superior’s Department of Writing, Languages and Literature focuses on the study of languages, literature, and cultures from an international perspective. You’ll be able to choose from a variety of learning paths, with majors and minors in Writing, English and English Education, as well as minors in Spanish and Global Studies