Bollingen Poetry Prize Goes to Robert W. Creeley

Robert White Creeley has been named the winner of the 1999 Bollingen Prize in Poetry, called "America's top poetry award" by the New York Times.

Robert White Creeley has been named the winner of the 1999 Bollingen Prize in Poetry, called “America’s top poetry award” by the New York Times.

The Bollingen Prize, established by the late Paul Mellon in 1949, is awarded biennially by the Yale University Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years or for lifetime achievement in poetry.

Citing a half-century of work “on the path of epistemological inquiry and poetic experiment,” the three-judge panel praised Creeley “As editor, publisher, traveler, teacher, writer,” calling him “a seminal figure of the second half of the 20th century.”

The winning books, both published last year by New Directions Publishing Corp., are “So There,” a collection that includes poems set in East Asia, the Pacific and New Mexico, and “Life & Death,” poems that examine aging and impermanence with a “wry wit, [and] sly rhymes, that both lighten and deepen his confrontation with inevitable death.”

This year’s judges were poets Gary Snyder, winner of the prize in 1997; Carolyn Kizer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1985; and Langdon Hammer, professor of English at Yale.

Creeley was born in Arlington, Mass., in 1926. He attended Harvard University, graduated from Black Mountain College, and received a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico. He has taught at Black Mountain College, the University of New Mexico, and the University of British Columbia, and since 1965 has been professor of poetry at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The author of more than 20 books of poetry, fiction, plays, history and literary criticism, Creeley’s poetry collections include “For Love: Poems, 1950-1960” (1962); “Words” (1967); “Pieces” (1969); “Presences” (1976); “Selected Poems” (1976); “Memory Gardens” (1986); “Windows” (1990); and “Echoes” (1994). He is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Levinson Prize, granted by Poetry Magazine (1960); two Guggenheim fellowships in poetry (1964 and 1971); the Shelley Memorial Award for Poetry (1981); the Frost Medal (1987); a Fulbright award (1988); and the America Award for Poetry (Washington, 1995). Creeley was New York State Poet from 1989 to 1991.

Previous Bollingen Prize winners include Wallace Stevens, John Crowe Ransom, Marianne Moore, Archibald MacLeish, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, E. E. Cummings, Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren, May Swenson and Kenneth Koch.


Now I recognize
it was always me
like a camera
set to expose

itself to a picture
or a pipe
through which the water
might run

or a chicken
dead for dinner
or a plan
inside the head

of a dead man.
Nothing so wrong
when one considered
how it all began.

It was Zukofsky’s
Born very young into a world
already very old…
The century was well along

when I came in
and now that it’s ending,
I realize it won’t
be long.

But couldn’t it all have been
a little nicer,
as my mother’d say. Did it
have to kill everything in sight,

did right always have to be so wrong?
I know this body is impatient.
I know I constitute only a meager voice and mind.
Yet I loved, I love.

I want no sentimentality.
I want no more than home.

From “Life & Death”,
Robert Creeley

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