Poetry News

Danez Smith Wins Inaugural Four Quartets Prize

By Harriet Staff
Danez Smith

Congratulations to Danez Smith, recipient of the T. S. Eliot Foundation and Poetry Society of America's inaugural Four Quartets Prize. The announcement came just this last Friday, April 13th, at a ceremony held at the National Arts Club in New York City. A number of publications are spreading the news, including Bustle, which led its coverage of the event with "Just when you thought the world was trash, some good news comes along to make you reconsider everything." Reflecting on the award itself, LAMBDA Literary's Cosmo Halterman de Ochoa explains: "Administered by the T.S. Eliot Foundation in partnership with The Poetry Society of America, the award honors a unified and complete sequence of poems published in America in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book in 2016 and/or 2017. Eliot’s 'Four Quartets' were published in a single volume, for the first time, 75 years ago in 1943, and the prize marks and celebrates this anniversary." At Literary Hub, Laura Buccieri documented the entire event, starting with: "I have always associated Friday the 13th with everything unlucky and ominous. But, to my surprise, it is a near-perfect, sunny, 76 degree day in NYC: each sidewalk is packed and the ice cream trucks are out in full force. A pre-summer bliss hangs the air—and yet here I am, heading inside the National Arts Club, in Gramercy Park, to witness another kind of bliss." Let's pick up with Buccieri's play-by-play, beginning there: 

The Poetry Society America has teamed up with the T.S. Eliot Foundation for the inaugural Four Quartets Prize, which will see the winning poet take home $20,000 for a sequence of poems. The first floor of the historic National Arts Club is filled with a hodgepodge of upholstered furniture, worn-in yet regal. No one’s quite had the time to pull out their springtime attire yet, and each guest makes a beeline for the bar to grab a cold drink. I take a look around. Everyone from poets like sam sax, Ben Lerner, and Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, to industry folks like Mary Gannon, associate content manager at The Academy of American Poets, has shown up on the first sunny day in months to support the three finalists for this year’s prize: Danez Smith, Geoffrey G. O’Brien, and Kathleen Peirce. We all politely mingle, sweating in tandem.

When asked about the prize, Smith, whose collection Don’t Call Us Dead was released by Graywolf in 2017, remarks, “This feels like someone is directly rewarding your curiosity and hunger to know more about your subjects.” I take a big sip of coffee, buying time to come up with something equally profound in response. Thankfully O’Brien steps in and adds that, “it is also recognizing the version of poetry that demands a lot from the reader.” This is true. The Poetry Society and the T.S. Eliot Foundation deserve credit for honoring a long sequence poem in the digital age, as do the poets themselves for writing long in a time when shorter is deemed sweeter.

The prize—named after T.S. Eliot’s long sequence poem of the same name—celebrates a unified and complete sequence of poems published in America in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book in 2016-17. This inaugural year was judged by Linda Gregerson, Ishion Hutchinson, and Jana Prikryl. The prize is unique; it does not require nominees to have released a book or to be a certain age.

Continue reading Buccieri's observations at Literary Hub. Read an excerpt from Danez Smith's winning sequence "summer, somewhere" here

Originally Published: April 16th, 2018