Gerald Stern Wins National Poetry Prize

Library of Congress Awards Gerald Stern The Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry

The Library of Congress will award the 2012 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry to Gerald Stern for his book “Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992.”

Stern received the award and read selections from his work at on Jan. 24, 2013, in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. The prize is awarded for the most distinguished book of poetry published in the preceding two years, 2010 and 2011. The volume was published by W. W. Norton in 2010.

Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, calls Stern “one of America’s great poet-proclaimers in the Whitmanic tradition—with moments of humor and whimsy, and an enduring generosity, his work celebrates the mythologizing power of the art.”

The panel of judges for this year’s prize included poet Kate Daniels, selected by 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Philip Levine; poet Juan Felipe Herrera, selected by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington; and scholar Betty Sue Flowers, selected by the Bobbitt family.

Daniels said, “Stern’s historical consciousness, and the perhaps-paradoxical, eternally optimistic spirit that infuses these poems is an extraordinary achievement—not only for our time, but for all time. That an individual human voice could rise above the contemporary clamor as distinctively, and with such intelligence, moral force, humor and love as Stern’s does in poem after poem—well, what can I say, but thank you to the gods of poetry.”

“Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992” contains the first six books of Stern’s half-century-long career—books that received the Lamont Prize, the Melville Cane Award and the Paterson Prize. Publisher’s Weekly said the poetry in “Early Collected Poems” is filled with “the sensibility and the music of speech” and “a quest after the deepest truths of the unadorned spirit.”

Stern was born in Pittsburgh in 1925. The son of Eastern European immigrants, he was educated at the University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University and the University of Paris. Stern taught for many years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has also held positions at Temple University, New England College—where he co-founded the Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry—and Drew University.

Stern’s 17th book of poems, “In Beauty Bright: Poems,” was published in September, and a forthcoming book of essays, “Stealing History,” will be released this fall. His other poetry collections include “Save the Last Dance: Poems” (2008), “Everything is Burning” (2005) and “This Time: New and Selected Poems” (1998), which won the National Book Award.

His additional honors include the Wallace Stevens Award, the Bess Hokin Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. He has received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. From 2000 to 2002, he was poet laureate of New Jersey.

Stern lives in Lambert, N.J., with his wife, the poet Anne-Marie Macari.

The Bobbitt Prize, a biennial $10,000 award, recognizes a book of poetry written by an American and published during the preceding two years, or the lifetime achievement of an American poet. The prize is donated by the family of Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory, and awarded at the Library of Congress. Bobbitt was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s sister. While a graduate student in Washington, D.C., during the 1930s, Rebekah Johnson met college student O.P. Bobbitt when they both worked in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress. They married and returned to Texas.

Past winners of the Bobbitt Prize:

  • 2010 Lucia Perillo for “Inseminating the Elephant”
  • 2008 Charles Wright for Lifetime Achievement, Bob Hicok for “This Clumsy Living”
  • 2006 W.S. Merwin for “Present Company”
  • 2004 B.H. Fairchild for “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest”
  • 2002 Alice Fulton for “Felt”
  • 2000 David Ferry for “Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems”
  • 1998 Frank Bidart for “Desire”
  • 1996 Kenneth Koch for “One Train”
  • 1994 A.R. Ammons for “Garbage”
  • 1992 Louise Glück for “Ararat, “Mark Strand for “The Continuous Life”

 In Beauty Bright

In Beauty Bright

In this poignant and urgent collection—his eighteenth—the award-winning poet Gerald Stern reflects on aging and the humanity we all share. The lyric poems of In Beauty Bright, although marked by the same passion and swiftness as Stern’s previous work, move into an area of knowledge—even wisdom—that reflects a long life of writing, teaching, and activism. They are poems of grief and anger, but the music is delicate and moving.

Stanley Kunitz called Stern “the wilderness of American poetry,” and in this boundless work Stern paints vignettes of different characters in his neighborhood, grounding his work in a sense of place in the cities of New York and Pittsburgh. Rapturous, irascible, and deeply American, Stern’s poetry is uniquely his own.

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