68. Eleanor Ross Taylor Awarded 2010 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

Award recognizes lifetime accomplishment with $100,000 prize

CHICAGO — The Poetry Foundation is pleased to announce that poet Eleanor Ross Taylor has won the 2010 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

Presented annually to a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize is one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets. At $100,000, it is also one of the nation’s largest literary prizes. Established in 1986, the prize is sponsored and administered by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. Over the last 25 years, the Lilly Prize has awarded more than $1,800,000. The prize will be presented at the Pegasus Awards ceremony at the Arts Club of Chicago on Tuesday, May 18.

In making the announcement, Christian Wiman, editor of Poetrymagazine, cited the strong reserve in Taylor’s poems and praised their “sober and clear-eyed serenity” and authority.

“We live in a time when poetic styles seem to become more antic and frantic by the day, and Taylor’s voice has been muted from the start. Muted, not quiet,” said Wiman. “You can’t read these poems without feeling the pent-up energy in them, the focused, even frustrated compression, and then the occasional clear lyric fury. And yet you can’t read them without feeling, as well, a bracing sense of spiritual largesse and some great inner liberty.”

A portfolio of 10 of Taylor’s poems will be featured in the May issue of Poetry. In introducing the selection, Wiman writes:

The winner of this year’s Ruth Lilly Prize is Eleanor Ross Taylor. I suspect the name will be unfamiliar to a number of our readers, the work to even more. Until the excellent selected poems,Captive Voices, was published by LSU Press last year, virtually all of Taylor’s work was out of print. Her slow production (six books in 50 years), dislike of poetry readings (“It seems to me that it’s all for the person and not the poetry”), and unfashionable fidelity to narrative and clarity haven’t helped matters. And yet, as is so often the case, what’s been bad for the career has been good for the poems. With their intricately odd designs and careful, off-kilter music, their vital characters and volatile silences, the poems have a hard-won, homemade fatedness to them. You can feel their future.

The awards ceremony will also celebrate the life of the Poetry Foundation’s late benefactor, Ruth Lilly, who died in December at age 94, with readings by Catherine Bowman, Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University, and 2001 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellow Ilya Kaminsky. In addition, Eleanor Ross Taylor’s editors Jean Valentine and Dave Smith—also poets and friends of hers—will be featured as part of the event.

“Poetry has had no greater friend than Ruth Lilly,” said Poetry Foundation president John Barr. “On this occasion, the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the prize bearing her name, we honor a life of extraordinary generosity and dedication to the art form.”

In 1985, Lilly endowed the Ruth Lilly Professorship in Poetry at Indiana University. In 1989 she created Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships of $15,000 each, awarded annually by the Poetry Foundation to undergraduate or graduate students selected through a national competition. In 2008, the Foundation increased the number of Lilly Fellowships awarded each year from two to five.

In 2002 Lilly’s 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.

Eleanor Ross Taylor has published six collections of poetry:Wilderness of Ladies (1960), Welcome Eumenides (1972), New and Selected Poems (1983), Days Going/Days Coming Back(1991), Late Leisure (1999), and Captive Voices: New and Selected Poems (2009).

A mother of four grown children and a grandmother, Taylor now resides in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has received the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize (1997–98), a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1998), the Library of Virginia’s Literary Award for Poetry (2000), and the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry (2001). She was elected to the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2009.

Previous recipients of the Ruth Lilly Poetry 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, Kay Ryan, C.K. Williams, Richard Wilbur, Lucille Clifton, Gary Snyder, and Fanny Howe.

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