Susan Howe, UB Professor Emerita, Takes Yale Bollingen Prize in American Poetry

Award goes to elegiac book about death of husband, UB Professor Emeritus Peter Hare

Release Date: March 1, 2011


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Poet Susan Howe has received Yale University's prestigious Bollingen Prize for her most recent book, "That This" and her lifetime achievement in the field.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Susan Howe, former Samuel P. Capen Chair of Poetry and the Humanities, University at Buffalo Department of English, and one of the preeminent poets of her generation, has been named the 2011 winner of Yale University's Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.

The award, one of the most prestigious available to American writers, is presented biennially by Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to an American poet, for the best book published during the previous two years or for lifetime achievement in poetry

Howe received the award both for lifetime achievement and for her most recent book, the beautiful, four-part "That This," which evolved out of her attempt to come to terms with the sudden death in 2008 of her third husband, Peter Hare, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, UB Department of Philosophy, whom she married in 2000.

Calling Howe "a fierce elegist," the award committee said the book "makes manifest the raw edges of elegy through the collision of verse and prose, visionary lyricism and mundane incident, exphrasis, visual patterning and the reclamation of historical documents. (It) culminates in a set of luminous and starkly condensed lyrics moving increasingly toward silence."

The Bollingen Poetry Prize also honors Howe's lifetime achievement in poetry and poetics. In addition to her innovative verse and exploration of the visual possibilities of language, Howe is an essayist, scholar and critic whose experimental, enigmatic writing is widely acknowledged as having changed several literary genres. Her many volumes of poetry include "The Midnight" (2003), "Kidnapped" (2002), "Pierce-Arrow" (1999), "Frame Structures: Early Poems 1974-1979" (1996), "The Nonconformist's Memorial" (1993), "The Europe of Trusts: Selected Poems" (1990) and "Singularities" (1990).

She has also written two remarkable books of criticism: "The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History" (1993), which was named "International Book of the Year" by the Times Literary Supplement, and "My Emily Dickinson" (1985), a seminal work of creative scholarship that traced a spiritual impulse from Jonathan Edwards, widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian, through Dickinson to the present.

Howe's writing -- her poetry in particular -- is marked by independent format, unpredictable rhythms and unconventional rhyme schemes, all of which are frequently enriched by unexpected references to history, mysticism, devotional writing and myth. Hers is a unique, creative and pioneering voice, complex and difficult for many to grasp, but one that has changed forever the landscape of American literary scholarship

Howe joined the UB faculty in 1988 as an English Department Butler Fellow, and later was an instructor in English, a professor and later Capen Chair until she retired in July, 2007. She was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 and a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2000.

She has been a fellow at The American Academy in Berlin, a distinguished fellow at the Stanford Institute of the Humanities and has recently taught at Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Utah and Wesleyan University.

The Bollingen Prize was established in 1949 by philanthropist Paul Mellon to celebrate the very best in American poetry and since then has been a force in shaping contemporary American letters. It carries a cash prize of $100,000, and was won in 1999 by the late Robert Creeley, former SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities at UB, where he served for 37 years.

Previous Bollingen Poetry Prize winners, all exceptionally influential, wrote with considerable stylistic diversity. Besides Creeley, they include Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, E.E. Cummings, John Ashbery, Louise Gluck, Anthony Hecht, John Hollander, Gary Snyder, Jay Wright, and Adrienne Rich.

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