U.Va.'s Wright Wins Top Poetry Prize for 'Scar Tissue'

June 15, 2007 -- Charles Wright, an English professor at the University of Virginia, is a winner of the seventh annual Griffin Poetry Prize for his volume “Scar Tissue.”

Wright will split the $100,000 prize with Don McKay, a Canadian poet who won for his book “Strike/Slip.” The prize is for first edition books of poetry published in 2006 and submitted from anywhere in the world.

“I feel good,” Wright said. “It’s very comforting to get an international prize.”

Wright, 71, described “Scar Tissue” as “a bringing together of all the strands I have been twining around my fingers for 30 years.”

Wright, the Souder Family Professor of Arts & Sciences, was raised in East Tennessee and now lives part of the year in Montana and part-time in Charlottesville, Va. His work deals with what he calls his perennial concerns of “language, landscape and the idea of God. What is behind the landscape? We can almost see it, but we don’t.”

The Griffin Poetry Prize is the richest poetry prize in the world for a single volume of poetry. While he enjoys receiving the money, Wright does not think the prize will change his life.
    “I’ll continue scratching away, writing short things until I run out of pencils,” he said. 

He started writing poetry in 1959, when he was in the U.S. Army. “I started reading it, and it was monkey see, monkey do. I found it was something I could do and got pulled in.”

Along the way he has written 23 books of poetry, translation and “improvisations and interviews.” He won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998 for his volume “Black Zodiac,” and the National Book Award in 1983 for “Country Music.” He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1975) and the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of the Italian poet Eugenio Montale’s “The Storm and Other Things.” He has also received the Ambassador Book Award (1998), Premio Antico Fattore Alla Poesia, (1998); Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry (1998), Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, Academy of American Poets (1996), The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1993), Distinguished Contribution to Letters Award, Ingram Merrill Foundation (1993), Award of Merit Medal, American Academy of Arts and Letters (1992) and the Brandeis Creative Arts Awards, Citation in Poetry (1987).

Wright’s books of poetry include “The Grave of the Right Hand” (1970); “Hard Freight” (1973); “Bloodlines” (1975); “China Trace” (1977); “The Southern Cross” (1981); “Country Music: Selected Early Poems” (1982); “The Other Side of the River” (1984); “Zone Journals” (1988); “The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980 – 1990” (1990); “Chickamauga” (1995), which won the 1996 Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; “Black Zodiac” (1997), which received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; “Appalachia” (1998); “Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems” (2000); “A Short History of the Shadow” (2002); “Buffalo Yoga” (2004); and “Scar Tissue” (2006).

His newest book, “Littlefoot: A Poem,” a single poem in 35 sections, was published in June. Wright is next scheduled to teach in Spring 2008.

The judges for the 2007 Griffin Prize, a Canadian prize, were poets John Burnside (Dunfermline, Scotland), Charles Simic (New Hampshire) and Karen Solie (Toronto, Canada). They each read 483 eligible works of poetry, including 18 translations, written by poets from 35 countries. The judges also selected poems from the shortlist to compile “The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology: A Selection of the 2007 Shortlist,” edited by Karen Solie and published by House of Anansi Press. Royalties generated from the anthologies, published annually, are donated to UNESCO’s World Poetry Day. As in past years, copies of the submitted poetry books are being donated to Corrections Canada.

The theme of the gala event, held June 6 at Toronto’s Stone Distillery, was Commedia del Arte, evoking the colors, décor and ambiance of a romantic Tuscan street fair. Scott Griffin, founder of the prize, hosted the awards event. Renowned poet Matthew Rohrer was the featured speaker. Judge Karen Solie announced the international winner, and John Burnside announced the Canadian winner of the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize.

    For more information, visit: www.griffinpoetryprize.com/awards_winners.php.