Yale awards Bollingen Prize in poetry to Charles Wright for book 'Bye-and-Bye'

Charles Wright, hailed as one of the leading American poets of his generation, has been named the winner of Yale’s 2013 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry.

Charles Wright, hailed as one of the leading American poets of his generation, has been named the winner of Yale’s 2013 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry.

Inspired to write poetry by the work of Ezra Pound, Charles Wright said, “I always fantasized about winning the Bollingen Prize because it’s the only prize Pound ever won.” (Photo by Holly Wright)

The Bollingen Prize in American Poetry is among the most prestigious prizes given to American writers. Established by Paul Mellon in 1949, it 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. The prize includes a cash award of $150,000.

“A poet of remarkable scope and ambition, Wright’s lyrics are like verbal scroll paintings, considering a vast landscape but exploring every aspect in exquisite detail, a stylistic combination that properly figures both the significance and insignificance of the human,” noted the three-member judging committee. “In poems that render the poignancy of moving time, the constancy of the landscape, and the mystery of the invisible, Wright binds the secular and the sacred in language charged with urgency and grace.”

The judges awarded Wright the Bollingen Prize for his 2011 book, “Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems,” describing it as “an extended meditation in which we sense ‘splinters of the divine’ in the phenomena and cyclic changes of the natural world, and in the elusive reaches of memory, myth, and history.

“At the same time,” they noted, “this volume succeeds in capturing the Morandi-like quality that Wright describes as ‘the metaphysics of the quotidian’.”

While stationed in Italy during four years of service in the U.S. Army, Wright discovered the work of Ezra Pound and began to write poetry for the first time. His first collection of poems, “The Grave of the Right Hand,” was published in 1970.

On learning he had been awarded the Bollingen Prize, Wright responded that he was delighted: “I always fantasized about winning the Bollingen Prize because it’s the only prize Pound ever won.” 

Wright’s recent books include: “Outtakes” (2010); “Sestets: Poems” (2009); “Littlefoot: A Poem” (2008); “Scar Tissue” (2007); “The Wrong End of the Rainbow” (2005); and “Buffalo Yoga” (2004). His two volumes of criticism are: “Halflife” (1988), and “Quarter Notes” (1995). He has translated the work of Dino Campana and Eugenio Montale.

Wright, the Souder Family Professor of English, emeritus, at the University of Virginia, has received numerous awards during his career, including the National Book Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Griffin Prize, the American Book Award in Poetry, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

The Bollingen Prize has honored the literary accomplishments of poets whose work continues to be a force in shaping contemporary American letters. Early Bollingen Prize winners — Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and E.E. Cummings — are widely considered writers whose work defined a new American literature of the 20th century. More recent winners — John Ashbery, Robert Creeley, Louise Glück, John Hollander, Gary Snyder, Jay Wright, and Adrienne Rich — represent “exciting stylistic diversity in American writing,” note the prize organizers.

This year’s judges were poet Susan Howe; poet, critic, and editor Geoffrey O’Brien; and literary scholar and cultural critic Joan Richardson.

Howe is the author of numerous books of poetry including “The Midnight,” “Souls of the Labadie Tract,” “The Europe of Trusts, Pierce-Arrow,” and “Singularities.” Her most recent book, “That This,” was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 2011. Among O’Brien’s many book titles are “The Fall of the House of Walworth,” “Sonata for Jukebox,” and “Dream Time: Chapters from the Sixties.”  He has published six collections of poetry of which the most recent is “Early Autumn.” A book of his writings on film 2002–2012 will be published later this year. O’Brien is editor and chief of the Library of America.Richardson is professor of English, comparative literature, and American studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Author of a two-volume biography of the poet Wallace Stevens, she co-edited, with Frank Kermode, “Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose.” Her study “A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein” was published in 2007; her book “Pragmatism and American Experience” will be published later this year.

For more information about Charles Wright visit the following Web pages:





From “Buffalo Yoga Coda I” by Charles Wright, in “Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems,” Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2011.

I think I’ll lie down just here for a while,

                                                           the sun on my cheek,

The wind like grass stems across my face,

And listen to what the world says,

                                     the luminous, transubstantiated world,

That holds me like nothing in its look.

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345