Spaar, Wright Honored with Virginia Poetry Prizes

October 21, 2009 — Two poets at the University of Virginia have received Library of Virginia Literary awards. Lisa Russ Spaar, a professor of English, received the annual poetry prize, and Charles Wright, Souder Family Professor of English, was recognized with the library's Weinstein Poetry Prize.

Spaar won for her third and most recent book, "Satin Cash." The judges said her poems "abound in surprising inversions of syntax, and a diction striking for its sudden shifts from demotic to baroquely laden speech — from imagistic precision to statement."

"It is an honor for me to have my poetry recognized in a year of especially outstanding poetry nominations," Spaar said. "Although I was born north of the Mason-Dixon line, I've lived in Virginia for well over half my life – and certainly I became a poet in Virginia. It is a joy, then, to be accepted in this particularly distinguished way as a 'Virginia writer' – a talented and diverse and manifold legion of what Wordsworth called 'the noble living and the noble dead.'"

Spaar, who earned her master of fine arts and bachelor's degrees from U.Va., is the founder and director of the Area Program in Poetry Writing for undergraduates in the English Department's creative writing program.

In addition to her three collections of poetry, she has edited two anthologies, "All That Mighty Heart: London Poems" (from University of Virginia Press) and "Acquainted With the Night: Insomnia Poems," and published two chapbooks, "Blind Boy on Skates" and "Cellar." Her work is included in "Best American Poetry 2008."

She received a 2009-10 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2009 All-University Teaching Award, the Emily Clark Balch Award from the Virginia Quarterly Review in 2001 and the Rona Jaffe Award for Emerging Women Writers in 2000.

Charles Wright was one of two Virginia poets presented this year's Weinstein Poetry Prize. Eleanor Ross Taylor, a longtime resident of Charlottesville, the other recipient, has been publishing books of poetry since 1960.

Wright, who has taught at U.Va. for almost 30 years, is the author of 21 volumes of poetry, two books of translations and two other books described as "improvisations and interviews." His most recent works include "Sestets," "Littlefoot: A Poem" and "Scar Tissue," which was the international winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize. He won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award for "Black Zodiac."

Wright has twice won the Library of Virginia Poetry Award. His many honors and accolades include the National Book Award in 1983 for "Country Music," as well as the PEN Translation Prize and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Merit Medal in 1992.

He also has received an Ingram Merrill Fellowship in Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship and two awards from the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared 10 times in the Best American Poetry series.

In 1999 he was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

The spring 2009 Virginia magazine described Wright "as one of the best poets of his generation, a quintessential Southerner and a philosopher-poet."

Wright said in that article, "I don't think the world is made of language; it is composed of things, which exude an aura of language like mist.'

Born in 1935 in Pickwick Dam, Tenn., Wright earned his bachelor's degree from Davidson College and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa.

The Library of Virginia's 12th Annual Literary Awards honor Virginia authors or, in the case of nonfiction, works on a Virginia subject. This year's awards celebration on Oct. 18 recognized writers in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literary lifetime achievement.