Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous Post | Jacket Copy Home | Next Post »

Major poetry prize goes to Fanny Howe

April 14, 2009 |  2:25 pm

Fanny Howe has just won the Poetry Foundation's Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which brings with it an award of $100,000. Howe, now 68, has published many works of poetry; poet Mark Doty calls her book "The Lyrics" "a richly meditative collection." She is also a novelist and essayist; in her March 2009 essay collection "The Winter Sun: Notes of a Vocation," Howe wrote:

Since early adolescence I have wanted to live the life of a poet. What this meant to me was a life outside the law; it would include disobedience and uprootedness. I would be at liberty to observe, drift, read, travel, take notes, converse with friends, and struggle with form.

What it means now is that it's also a life with a comfortable bank balance. Not that she wants that; in fact, in her 1980 collection "Poem From a Single Pallet," she wrote:

To be free of the need
to make a waste of money
when my passion,
first and last,
is for the ecstatic lash
of the poetic line
and no visible recompense
         (“Poem From a Single Pallet”)

In announcing the award, the Poetry Foundation said Fanny Howe's poetry "can be elusive and hermetic, and then abruptly and devastatingly candid; it is marked by the pressures of history and culture, yet defiantly, transcendently lyrical. She is a demanding and deeply rewarding artist, and her body of work seems larger, stranger, and more permanent with each new book she publishes."

Ruth Lilly's $10-million gift in 2002 helped to endow the Poetry Foundation, but the award has been presented in her name since 1986. Born in 1915, she's the last surviving heir to the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical fortune -- and someone who has found a way to dispense with her money without making waste.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Margaretta K. Mitchell