February 20, 2008 (REVISED February 21, 2008) Poet Laureate Chooses Two New Voices in American Poetry for 11th Annual Witter Bynner Award and Reading, March 6
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Poet Laureate Charles Simic has chosen two new voices in poetry, business-development writer Matthew Thorburn and attorney Monica Youn, for the 2008 Witter Bynner Fellowships and will introduce the poets on March 6 at the Library of Congress. Thorburn and Youn, both from New York City, will read from their works at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, March 6, in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; tickets are not required. Thorburn and Youn each will receive a $10,000 fellowship, provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry in conjunction with the Library of Congress. It is the 11th year the fellowships have been awarded. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, “These fellowships to poets of distinction who as yet are not widely known provide a wonderful way for the Laureate, the Library and the Witter Bynner Foundation to encourage poets and poetry.” In explaining his selections, Simic said, “Monica’s work conveys a skeptical, intelligent voice, alert and sharp, delighting as much in sense as in nonsense, engaged by everything from history to comic strips. Youn takes the lyric poem beyond its traditional form, reinvents it and in the process reminds us what imagination at its most playful can accomplish.” Of Thorburn, Simic said, “Matthew’s work is wry, surprising, jovial and a little mysterious. His poems tie together memories of family and friends and examine nostalgias with a kind of quiet, bemused remove. Even when he uses sonnets and other traditional forms, his voice remains distinctive, intimate and, above all, memorable.” Born in 1973, Thorburn works as a business-development writer for an international law firm in New York City. He is the author of “Subject to Change” (2004), and his poems have appeared in “The Paris Review,” “Poetry,” “The American Poetry Review” and other journals. From 2000 to 2004, Thorburn founded and co-edited the poetry journal Good Foot. His work has been recognized with the Mississippi Review Prize and the Belfast Poetry Festival’s inaugural Festivo Prize. Thorburn is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the MFA program at The New School, a university in New York City. He is working on a second book of poems. Youn, who was raised in Houston, Texas, is an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and an adjunct assistant professor of creative writing at Columbia University. She is the author of “Barter” (2003). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the “Norton Anthology: Language for a New Century.” Youn has earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton, a master’s of philosophy from Oxford and a law degree from Yale. She has received the Rhodes Scholarship and the Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University. The Witter Bynner fellowships are to be used to support the writing of poetry. Only two things are asked of the fellows: that they organize a reading in their hometown and participate in a reading and recording session at the Library of Congress. Applications are not taken for the fellowships; the Poet Laureate makes the selection. The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry was incorporated in 1972 in New Mexico to provide grant support for programs in poetry through nonprofit organizations. Witter Bynner was an influential early-20th-century poet and translator of the Chinese classic “Tao Te 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. Housman for the first time in the United States, and was one of O. Henry’s early fans. Previous Witter Bynner fellows were Carol Muske-Dukes and Carl Phillips (1998), David Gewanter, Heather McHugh and Campbell McGrath (1999), and Naomi Shihab Nye and Joshua Weiner (2000), all appointed by Robert Pinsky; the late Tory Dent and Nick Flynn (2001), appointed by Stanley Kunitz; George Bilgere and Katia Kapovich (2002), and Major Jackson and Rebecca Wee (2003), appointed by Billy Collins; Dana Levin and Spencer Reece (2004), appointed by Louise Gluck; Claudia Emerson and Martin Walls (2005), and Joseph Stroud and Connie Wanek (2006), appointed by Ted Kooser; and Laurie Lamon and David Tucker (2007), appointed by Donald Hall. For further information on Witter Bynner fellowships and the poetry program at the Library of Congress, visit www.loc.gov/poetry/.