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Charles Wright Wins $150,000 Bollingen Prize for His Poetry

Charles Wright, professor emeritus of the English department’s Creative Writing Program in the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences, has won the 2013 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. Wright taught at U.Va. for almost 30 years, retiring in 2011, and is one of America’s most celebrated poets.

The Bollingen Prize in American Poetry is among the most prestigious prizes given to American writers. Established by Paul Mellon in 1949, it is awarded biennially by the Yale University Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years or for lifetime achievement in poetry. The prize includes a cash award of $150,000.

The judges awarded Wright the Bollingen Prize for his 2011 book, “Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems,” describing it as “an extended meditation in which we sense ‘splinters of the divine’ in the phenomena and cyclic changes of the natural world, and in the elusive reaches of memory, myth, and history.”

“A poet of remarkable scope and ambition, Wright’s lyrics are like verbal scroll paintings, considering a vast landscape but exploring every aspect in exquisite detail, a stylistic combination that properly figures both the significance and insignificance of the human,” the three-member judging committee noted. “In poems that render the poignancy of moving time, the constancy of the landscape, and the mystery of the invisible, Wright binds the secular and the sacred in language charged with urgency and grace.”

While stationed in Italy during four years of service in the U.S. Army, Wright discovered the work of Ezra Pound and began to write poetry for the first time. His first collection of poems, “The Grave of the Right Hand,” was published in 1970.

Wright said he was delighted to have won the award. “I always fantasized about winning the Bollingen Prize because it's the only prize Pound ever won,” he said. 

Wright’s recent books include “Outtakes” (2010); “Sestets: Poems” (2009); “Littlefoot: A Poem” (2008); “Scar Tissue” (2007); “The Wrong End of the Rainbow” (2005); and “Buffalo Yoga” (2004). His two volumes of criticism are: “Halflife” (1988) and “Quarter Notes” (1995). He has translated the work of Italian poets Dino Campana and Eugenio Montale.

Wright, the Souder Family Professor Emeritus of English, has received numerous awards during his career, including the National Book Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Griffin Prize, the American Book Award in Poetry, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

The Bollingen Prize has honored the literary accomplishments of poets whose work continues to be a force in shaping contemporary American letters. Early Bollingen Prize winners –Pound, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore and e.e. cummings – are widely considered writers whose work defined a new American literature of the 20th century. More recent winners – John Ashbery, Robert Creeley, Louise Glück, John Hollander, Gary Snyder, Jay Wright and Adrienne Rich – represent “exciting stylistic diversity in American writing,” note the prize organizers.

This year’s judges were poet Susan Howe; poet, critic and editor Geoffrey O’Brien; and literary scholar and cultural critic Joan Richardson.

After it’s over, after the last gaze has shut down,
        Will I have become
        The landscape I’ve looked at and walked through
        Or the road that took me there
                                                        or the time it took to arrive?

            — excerpt from “Sprung Narratives” by Charles Wright

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