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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Beinecke Library is pleased to announce that the Joseph Brodsky Papers (GEN MSS 613) are processed and available for use. Joseph Brodsky, Russian-born poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, was born in Leningrad on May 24, 1940. He ended his formal schooling at age fifteen and began to write poetry, soon demonstrating a keen interest in translation. He taught himself Polish and English in order to translate poetry, including that of Czeslaw Milosz and John Donne. His early writings in Russia were circulated in samizdat (self-published) collections.
Brodsky was arrested several times starting in 1961, tried in 1964 as a “social parasite” (tuneiadets), and sentenced to five years of labor in Norenskaia (a village in the Arkhangelsk Province of northern Russia). Brodsky’s trial and sentence brought him increasing international attention when Frida Vigdorova’s transcript was publicized in the Western media. It was also around this time that his poetry began to be compiled and published in the United States. Even after his release from Norenskaia, Brodsky continued to be at constant risk of arrest. In 1972 he was forced to emigrate when he was suddenly granted a visa (for which he had not applied) to emigrate to Israel. He had to leave Russia within a matter of weeks.
Brodsky traveled to Austria and to England before coming to the United States. He accepted a position as Poet in Residence at the University of Michigan, where he stayed until 1981, when he accepted a permanent position on the faculty of Mount Holyoke College. He then divided his time between New York City and South Hadley, Massachusetts. He became a United States citizen in 1977. Brodsky never returned to Russia after emigrating, though later in his life political circumstances would have allowed it and his Russian readers clamored for it.
Brodsky suffered from heart disease throughout his adult life and he had several open-heart surgeries. He died of heart failure on January 28, 1996.
The Joseph Brodsky Papers document all aspects of Brodsky’s professional life, including writings, appearances, readings, lectures, advocacy, and relations with other literary figures. The research interest of the papers encompasses Russian-language poetry, the Soviet emigre experience, and poetry translation. Researchers interested in Brodsky’s creative process will find much relevant material, including multiple drafts (many corrected) of poems and essays (including translations by Brodsky and others). Teaching material is present in small quantities and provides only sporadic documentation of Brodsky’s career as an educator. Personal papers are also present and chiefly document immigration and other legal affairs.
Brodsky’s work, while rarely political, reflects broad historical and political themes that defined his era: empire, emigration, and the relationship of the individual to the state. The trajectory of Brodsky’s publishing and teaching is inextricable from the emigre experience, as his early works were censored in the Soviet Union and promoted by publishers and scholars in the United States. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian literary public was able to “reclaim” Brodsky openly and his works (including Russian translations of his essays) were published there.
Brodsky’s bilingual emigre identity is elucidated in his writings. A significant proportion of Brodsky’s poetry was translated from Russian to English, often by multiple translators, and some poems exist in alternate versions. Brodsky’s prose was also oft-translated: his early essays were written in Russian and translated into English, though most of his prose was written in English. While Brodsky’s notes and corrections indicate engagement with the translation of his prose, it is evident that his commitment to and involvement in the translation of his poetry was profound.
A full description of the papers can be found online: Joseph Brodsky Papers. Images from the Joseph Brodsky Papers can be located by searching Beinecke’s Digital Library. Related manuscript collections can be located by searching the Library’s Finding Aid Database. Copies of Brodsky’s printed works in Yale libraries can be located in Orbis, Yale’s catalog for books.
Lisa Conathan, Archivist
Poet, librettist and Yale professor J.D. McClatchy has been named President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A professor of English at Yale and, since 1991, the editor of The Yale Review, McClatchy succeeds another Yale faculty member and former Dean of the Yale School of Music, Ezra Laderman, as president of the 111-year-old national honor society.
On learning of McClatchy’s selection, Yale University President Richard C. Levin said, “In his poetry, opera librettos, essays and translations Sandy consistently reaches the highest standards. His wise judgment, so evident in his work as editor of the Yale Review, is one of the many virtues that make him an ideal choice to lead the Academy.”
McClatchy’s literary archive is housed in the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (to locate McClathy’s papers and related collections search the library’s Uncataloged Acquisitions Database, Orbis, and the Finding Aid Database).
J. D. McClatchy is the author of six collections of poems: Scenes From Another Life (1981), Stars Principal (1986), The Rest of the Way (1990), Ten Commandments”(1998), Hazmat (2002), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Mercury Dressing (2009). His literary essays are collected in White Paper (1989), Twenty Questions (1998), and American Writers at Home (2004).
McClatchy has also written 13 opera libretti , including most notably, William Schumann’s “A Question of Taste,” Ned Rorem’s “Our Town,” Lowell Liebermann’s “Miss Lonelyhearts,” Elliot Goldenthal and Julie Taymor’s “Grendel,” and Lorin Maazel’s “1984.” Among other recent contributions McClatchy has made to the opera world is a new singing translation of Taymor’s heralded production of “The Magic Flute” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2004. His 2006 translation of that opera for the Metropolitan was broadcast live to movie theaters around the world, and subsequently aired on PBS’s Great Performances series; it is now performed every other holiday season at the Met. He has written narrations for performances by the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and frequently writes the supertitles for Metropolitan Opera productions.
New projects include “Little Nemo in Slumberland” with Daron Hagen, and “The Secret Agent” with Michael Dellaira, both set to premiere next year; “Vincent” with composer Bernard Rands, which will open in 2011; and “An Inconvenient Truth,” based on Al Gore’s film, with composer Giorgio Battistelli, commissioned by Teatro alla Scala and scheduled to premiere there in 2013.
He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was named a New York Public Library Literary Lion, and received the 2000 Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award. He served as the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1996 until 2003.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was established in 1898 to “foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts,” and election into the membership body comprising 250 of America’s leading voices in the fields of Art, Architecture, Literature, and Music is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in this country.