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Paisley Rekdal Awarded UNT’s Rilke Prize
The $10,000 award was established two years ago to recognize outstanding mid-career poets. Paisley Rekdal won it for her fourth book of poems, Animal Eye. Rekdal teaches at the University of Utah, and she’s the daughter of a Chinese-American mother and a Norwegian father. In 2000, she wrote about her biracial background in her essay collection, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee (which was excerpted in The New York Times Sunday magazine).
But race hasn’t figured as much in her poetry until recently. She says that’s partly because writing about race made her turn to the essay form when she was younger. It gave her more room.
“I was allowed to bring in characters and talk about multiple different stories and write about all those feelings,” she says. “So I just knew I didn’t have the skill to write about race within a poem. And to a certain degree I’m still struggling with that.”
Rekdal says she’s been surprised and grateful for the attention Animal Eye has received. It’s won the Rilke, it’s a finalist for another award and Publishers Weekly declared it one of last year’s finest books of poetry. Rekdal says she was surprised because Animal Eye is more contemplative than her previous books. The poems are comparatively un-ironic. They’re longer and they draw more on birds, animals and plants for their images. Rekdal actually told her husband she feared the book would get panned.
“It’s not doing what a lot of books of poetry are doing right now,” she explains. “It was so old-fashioned in a way. And so I thought,’ Oh, you know, this is going to be the end of my career.’ And then I thought, ‘It’s a good thing I’m a poet — because no one will notice.’”
Well, I guess people ARE noticing. Head over to the Art and Seek blog to read more about the award and Rekdal’s work, along with a poem she composed as part of NPR’s NewsPoet feature.