For Immediate Release
Richard Wilbur Wins 2006 Lilly Prize
$100,000 Award One of Largest to Poets
April 18, 2006
In announcing the award, Wiman said: "If you had to put all your money on one living poet whose work will be read in a hundred years, Richard Wilbur would be a good bet. He has written some of the most memorable poems of our time, and his achievement rivals that of great American poets like Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop."
Richard Wilbur has published over two-dozen poems in Poetry since his first appearance in the magazine in February 1948. Wilbur has served as Poet Laureate of the United States and his many other honors include two Pulitzer Prizes, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Translation Prize. He lives with his wife, Charlotte, in Cummington, Massachusetts.
Born in New York City on March 1, 1921, Wilbur grew up on a New Jersey farm, was educated at Amherst and Harvard, and served with the 36th Infantry Division. He was a member of the prestigious Harvard Fellows and taught there until 1954, when he moved to Wellesley and then to Wesleyan University. From Wesleyan he went to Smith as writer-in-residence. In 1987 he was named the second Poet Laureate of the U.S., following Robert Penn Warren.
"No contemporary poet has brought so much lived experience into such formally perfect poems as Richard Wilbur. Entering a Wilbur poem is a deeply civil and civilizing experience, from which we emerge better human beings," said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation. "The Poetry Foundation is pleased to represent Ruth Lilly, once again, in giving this major award to a poet as extraordinary as Wilbur."
Wilbur began to write poetry in earnest only after experiencing the horrific chaos of battle during WW II service as an infantryman in Italy. No poet of his generation has been more committed to careful, organized expression or has more thoroughly mastered the forms and devices of traditional poetry; this conservative aesthetic and his deep love for "country things" link Wilbur to the Roman poet Horace and to his fellow American Robert Frost. He has also produced sparkling, witty translations of classic French drama and several books for children.
Wilbur's books of poetry include New and Collected Poems (1988), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Mind-Reader: New Poems (1976); Walking to Sleep: New Poems and Translations (1969); Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems (1961); Things of This World (1956), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; Ceremony and Other Poems (1950); and The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (1947). Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems 1943-2004 was published in 2004.
Judges for the 2006 prize were poets Linda Gregerson, Don Paterson, and Christian Wiman.
"A Barred Owl"
by Richard Wilbur
The warping night-air having brought the boom
Of an owl's voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
"Who cooks for you?" and then "Who cooks for you?"
Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.
From Mayflies: New Poems and Translations. © 2000 by Richard Wilbur. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Inc.
About the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
American poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly. Over many years and in many ways, it has been blessed by her personal generosity. In 1985 she endowed the Ruth Lilly Professorship in Poetry at Indiana University. In 1989 she created two Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships, for $15,000 each, given annually by the Poetry Foundation to undergraduate or graduate students selected through a national competition. In 2002 her lifetime engagement with poetry culminated in a magnificent bequest that will enable the Poetry Foundation to promote, in perpetuity, a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.
The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. Established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly, the annual prize is sponsored and administered by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. Over the last twenty years, the Lilly prize has awarded over $1,000,000. Previous recipients of the Ruth Lilly Prize are Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, Anthony Hecht, Mona Van Duyn, Hayden Carruth, David Wagoner, John Ashbery, Charles Wright, Donald Hall, A. R. Ammons, Gerald Stern, William Matthews, W. S. Merwin, Maxine Kumin, Carl Dennis, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lisel Mueller, Linda Pastan, Kay Ryan, and C.K. Williams.
About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine and one of the largest literary organizations in the world, exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit PoetryFoundation.org.
Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe's "Open Door" policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry's mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach. The magazine established its reputation early by publishing the first important poems of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and other now-classic authors. In succeeding decades it has presented—often for the first time—works by virtually every significant poet of the 20th century.