For Immediate Release

C.K. Williams Wins 2005 Lilly Prize

$100,000 Award One of Largest to Poets
April 20th, 2005

CHICAGO — C.K. Williams, the author of nine collections of poetry and recipient of multiple awards, has won the 2005 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Established in 1986, the prize is one of the most prestigious given to American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the largest literary honors for work in the English language. Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the selection committee, made the announcement today. The prize will be presented at an evening ceremony at The Arts Club in Chicago on May 24th.

C.K. Williams's first published poem, "Sleeping Over," appeared in Poetry in 1964.

In announcing the award, Wiman said: "C.K. Williams is a master at dramatizing complicated psychological states, but he is also always equally concerned with the self's relation to the larger world. He has created a signature style, which more and more seems a permanent part of our literature."

Williams was born in New Jersey in 1936, and was educated at the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University and lives part of the year in Paris. He is recipient of the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1989), a Lila Acheson Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund Writer's Award (1992), the PEN/Voelker Career Achievement in Poetry Award (1998), the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin (1998), the Harriet Monroe Prize from the University of Chicago (1993), and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature (1999). He has also received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Williams's most recent volume of poetry, The Singing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) was the winner of the 2003 National Book Award. Previous collections include Repair (FSG, 1999), winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; The Vigil, (FSG, 1996); A Dream of Mind, (FSG, 1992); Flesh and Blood (FSG, 1987), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry; Tar (1983); With Ignorance (1977), I Am the Bitter Name (1972); and Lies (1969). Williams is also the author of five works in translation: Selected Poems of Francis Ponge (1994); Canvas, by Adam Zagajewski (with Renata Gorczynski and Benjamin Ivry, 1991); The Bacchae of Euripides (1990), The Lark. The Thrush. The Starling. (Poems from Issa) (1983); and Sophocles' Women of Trachis (with Gregory Dickerson, 1978).

"A C.K. Williams poem works like a joint venture between place, often a place as distinctly unromantic as an auto graveyard, and the state of mind observing the place. Invariably, the collaboration brings us to a more nuanced understanding of what it is to be human," said John Barr, President of The Poetry Foundation. "The Foundation is extremely pleased to represent Ruth Lilly, once again, in giving this major award to a poet as outstanding as Williams."

Judges for the 2005 prize were Michael Hofmann, J. Allyn Rosser, and Christian Wiman.


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, and Kay Ryan.

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring the best poetry before the largest possible audience. In the coming year, the Foundation will sponsor a recitation contest in the schools, a major new poetry website, and an unprecedented study to understand poetry's place in American culture.

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.

Poetry has always been independent, unaffiliated with any institution or university—or with any single poetic or critical movement or aesthetic school. It continues to print the major English-speaking poets, while presenting emerging talents, in all their variety. In recent years, more than a third of the authors published in the magazine have been young writers appearing for the first time. On average, the magazine receives over 90,000 submissions per year from around the world.


Poems by C.K. Williams


That astonishing thing that happens when you crack a needle-awl into a block of ice:
the way a perfect section through it crazes into gleaming fault-lines, fractures, facets;
dazzling silvery deltas that in one too-quick-to-capture instant madly complicate the cosmos of its innards.
Radiant now with spines and spikes, aggressive barbs of glittering light, a treasure horde of light,
when you stab it with the awl again it comes apart in nearly equal segments, both faces sadly grainy, gnawed at, dull.

What was called an ice-house was a dark, low place, of raw, unpainted wood,
always black with melted ice or ice as yet ungelled;
there was saw-dust, and saw-dust's tantalizing, half-sweet odor, which, so cold, seemed to pierce directly to the brain.
You'd step onto a low-roofed porch, someone would materialize,
take up great tongs and with precise, placating movements like a lion-tamer's slide an ice block from its row.

Take the awl again yourself now, thrust, and when the block splits do it yet again, again;
watch it disassemble into smaller fragments, crystal after fissured crystal.
Or if not the puncturing blade, try to make a metaphor, like Kafka's frozen sea within:
take into your arms the cake of actual ice, make a figure of its ponderous inertness,
of the way its quickly wetting chill against your breast would frighten you and make you let it drop.

Imagine then how even if it shattered and began to liquefy,
the hope would still remain that if you acted quickly, gathering up the slithery, perversely skittish ovals,
they might be refrozen and the mass reconstituted, with precious little of its brilliance lost,
just this lucent shimmer on the rough, raised grain of water-rotten floor,
just this drop as sweet and warm as blood evaporating on your tongue.

October-November 1997


Furiously a crane
in the scrapyard out of whose grasp
a car it meant to pick up slipped,
lifts and lets fall, lifts and lets fall
the steel ton of its clenched pincers
onto the shuddering carcass
which spurts fragments of anguished glass
until it's sufficiently crushed
to be hauled up and flung onto
the heap from which one imagines
it'll move on to the shredding
or melting down that awaits it.

Also somewhere a crow
with less evident emotion
punches its beak through the dead
breast of a dove or albino
sparrow until it arrives at
a coil of gut it can extract,
then undo with a dexterous twist
an oily stretch just the right length
to be devoured, the only
suggestion of violation
the carrion jerked to one side
in involuntary dismay.

Splayed on the soiled pavement
the dove or sparrow; dismembered
in the tangled remnants of itself
the wreck, the crane slamming once more
for good measure into the all
but dematerialized hulk,
then luxuriously swaying
away, as, gorged, glutted, the crow
with savage care unfurls the full,
luminous glitter of its wings,
so we can preen, too, for so much
so well accomplished, so well seen.

June 1999

Photo © Catherine Mauger

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