Mark Doty and “The Terrible Dilemma of Prizes”

firebirdAfter Mark Doty won the National Book Award, I went off to the local used bookstore to see what might be available, and there I found a memoir entitled Firebird.  I started reading, and the first item had to do with a trip MD made to England, a trip during which he would find out whether he won a poetry prize.  MD explains what the anticipatory atmosphere was like for him:

I am behaving as though I am a calm and more-or-less balanced adult, but in fact I’m reduced to something distinctly adolescent by the whole thing.  Of course I’d like to win the prize, but can’t quite let myself imagine that; I don’t like to imagine the alternative either. Both options make my self-doubt flare, since to win would seem the strangest of flukes, an honor I couldn’t possibly merit, and to lose would confirm my own restless doubts. This is the terrible dilemma of prizes: we cannot believe we deserve them, and we cannot quite believe we don’t.

That pronoun shift from the “I” to “we” does not bother me as it might in another circumstance.  That bit of universalization sounds as if it could withstand a Kantian analysis.


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