GARY SNYDER WINS 2008 RUTH LILLY POETRY PRIZE
CHICAGO—Poet Gary Snyder is the winner of the 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Established in 1986 and presented annually by the Poetry Foundation, the award is one of the most prestigious given to American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the nation’s largest literary awards. 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 of Chicago on Thursday, May 29.
In announcing the award, Wiman said: “Gary Snyder is in essence a contemporary devotional poet, though he is not devoted to any one god or way of being so much as to Being itself. His poetry is a testament to the sacredness of the natural world and our relation to it, and a prophecy of what we stand to lose if we forget that relation.”
Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder began writing in the 1950s as a member—with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac—of the Beat movement. For most of the 1960s he lived in Japan and studied formally in a Zen monastery. Blending physical reality—precise observations of nature—with insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism, Snyder has explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose.
The judges issued the following statement in making the selection: “Gary Snyder is a true nature poet: there’s no sentimentalism to his work, and he never uses the natural world simply to celebrate his own sensibility. A deeply learned and meditative artist, an impassioned ecologist, and a poet of great scope as well as intense focus, Snyder has written poems that we will be reading for as long as we’ve been reading Robert Frost.”
“The selection of Gary Snyder as this year’s winner of the Lilly Prize does honor to the tradition of excellence and importance that the prize has stood for since it was established over 20 years ago,” said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation.
Snyder is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, and translations. His poetry collections include Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, The Back Country, Regarding Wave, No Nature, Mountains and Rivers Without End, and Danger on Peaks. His essays are collected in Earth House Hold, The Real Work, A Place in Space, and Back on the Fire.
A committed environmental activist who has received the John Hay Award for Nature Writing, Snyder has also been recognized for his contributions to the theory and practice of Buddhism. His many honors include the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for Turtle Island, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Bollingen Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Prize from Poetry, the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Times, and the Shelley Memorial Award.
Snyder was born on May 8, 1930, in San Francisco. He is professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Davis, and lives in northern California.
Judges for the 2008 prize were poets Eavan Boland, Sandra M. Gilbert, and Christian Wiman.
A grizzled black-eyed rabbit showed me
irrigation ditches, open paved highway,
to the hill.
bell chill blue jewel sky
Banner clouds flying,
The mountains all gathered,
juniper trees on the flanks
the snug bark scale
in thin powder snow
over rock scrabble, pricklers, boulders,
pines and junipers,
The trees all singing.
The mountains are singing
To gather the sky and the mist
to bring it down snow-breath
and gather it water
Sent from the singing peaks
flanks and folds
Down arroyos and ditches by highways the water
The people to use it, the
mountains and juniper
Do it for men,
Said the rabbit.
First published in Poetry, March 1968. © Gary Snyder
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 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 20 years, the Lilly Prize has awarded more than $1,000,000. The previous recipients 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, C.K. Williams, Richard Wilbur, and Lucille Clifton.
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 www.poetryfoundation.org.
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