Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky has granted $12,500 poetry fellowships to poets Carol Muske and Carl Phillips. The awards are from the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress.
"Besides being wonderful poets, both of these people have personal qualities that will enable them to contribute to their communities and to poetry through the Witter Bynner Fellowships," said Mr. Pinsky, who made the selections on Nov. 25, 1997.
The fellowships are to be used to support the writing of poetry. Only two things are asked of the fellows: that they organize a local poetry reading in the spring of 1998 (in Los Angeles and St. Louis, respectively) and that they participate in a poetry reading at the Library of Congress sometime in the first half of October.
The local readings will incorporate Mr. Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project, which calls for Americans, both ordinary and luminary, to read poems by their favorite poets for a video and tape archive.
"I've had other fellowships but never one with a grassroots component," said Ms. Muske. "I find this particular outreach personally very satisfying. The relationship between the individual person and the poem has been an object of fascination for me for a long time. I think that Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project brings that relationship into focus and honors it."
Said Mr. Phillips: "It is exciting to be the Midwest launching point for the Favorite Poem Project -- a project that reminds us of the place poetry had in this country in earlier years, when people learned poems by heart and through song. Robert Pinsky's project restores poetry to its place as a national, shared treasure, not something exclusive to university classrooms." He added that the fellowship is "a vote of confidence that writers can use from time to time for the creation of poetry."
Ms. Muske's most recent book is An Octave Above Thunder (Penguin, 1997). Her previous work incudes five collections of poetry (Camouflage, 1975; Skylight, 1977; Wyndmere, 1985; Applause, 1989; and Red Trousseau, 1993) and two novels, Dear Digby (1993) and Saving St. Germ (1989). She has received grants and awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation and the Poetry Society of America. A professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter and her husband, actor David Dukes.
Mr. Phillips's new collection of poetry, From the Devotions, was recently published by Graywolf Press. He is the author of In the Blood, winner of the 1992 Morse Poetry Prize, and Cortege, which was nominated for the 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lambda Gay Men's Poetry Award. He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Academy of American Poets and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Mr. Phillips is associate professor of English and of African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also directs the Creative Writing Program. (See related story.)
The funding source for the fellowships, the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, was incorporated in 1972 in New Mexico to provide grant support for programs in poetry through nonprofit organizations. Mr. Bynner was an influential early-20th century poet and translator of the Chinese classic the Tao Teh Ching, which he named The Way of Life According to Laotzu. He traveled with D.H. and Frieda Lawrence and proposed to Edna St. Vincent Millay (she accepted, but then they changed their minds). He worked at McClure's magazine, where he published A.E. Houseman for the first time in the United States and was one of O. Henry's early fans.
The Witter Bynner Foundation is giving the Library a total of $150,000 over five years; $25,000 for two or more poets each year to be chosen by the Poet Laureate in conjunction with the Library to encourage poets and poetry, and $5,000 annually for five years to assist with costs of the Poet Laureateship.
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry position has existed since 1936, when the late philanthropist Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Archibald MacLeish, who was Librarian from 1939 to 1944, determined the Consultant in Poetry should be an annual appointment. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 in 1985, as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.
The current Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky, is the award-winning translator of The Inferno of Dante and a creative writing professor at Boston University. In addition to making the Witter Bynner fellowship awards, he suggests authors to read in the Library's literary series, plans other special events during the literary season, and usually introduces the programs.