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Allen Grossman Wins Bollingen Prize in American Poetry

A three-judge panel has named Allen Grossman the 2009 winner of Yale University’s Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.
The judges described Grossman as “a profoundly original American poet whose work embraces the co-existence of comedy and tragedy, exploring the intersection of high poetic style and an often startling vernacular. His most recent book, Descartes’ Loneliness, is a bold and haunting late meditation, comparable to Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece, Winter Words.”
This year’s judges were Frank Bidart, poet and winner of the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry, Peter Cole, poet and Visiting Professor at Yale University, and Susan Stewart, poet and Professor of English at Princeton University.
Allen Grossman was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1932, and educated at Harvard University, where he received an MA, and at Brandeis University, where he earned a PhD in 1960. Grossman remained at Brandeis as a professor until 1991 when he was named Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. He retired from teaching in 2005. His many collections of poetry include: A Harlot's Hire (1959), The Woman on the Bridge over the Chicago River (1979), The Bright Nails Scattered on the Ground (1986), The Ether Dome and Other Poems, New and Selected 1979-1991 (1991), How to Do Things with Tears (2001), Sweet Youth (2002), and Descartes’ Loneliness (2007).
The judges also said: “A distinguished teacher of poetics and literature, Grossman has influenced three generations of American writers. He has characterized the lyric poet as an individual who, ‘by means of this art, seeks to speak with the utmost seriousness about the totality of what he experiences,’ and Grossman himself has been refreshingly restless in that pursuit. In Descartes’ Loneliness, he achieves a precarious balance between an aspirational vision and close attention to the world at hand. The poems progress with comic flair, dramatic inquiry, and, at times, rage, through remembrance toward understanding. The figure they make is large and difficult, and the results are wholly singular. Carrying a weight that is rare in contemporary poetry, their music provides a deep-seated solace to their stark sentence.”
The Bollingen Prize in American Poetry, established by Paul Mellon in 1949, 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. Previous winners include Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, E. E. Cummings, Louise Glűck, Adrienne Rich, and Jay Wright. The prize includes a cash award of $100,000.
For further information, please contact Nancy Kuhl, curator of Poetry, Yale Collection of American Literature:

February 16, 2009


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