The Sewanee Review has announced that Marie Ponsot is the recipient of this year's Aiken Taylor award in modern American poetry. Marie Ponsot, known for her poetry and her translation, is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and in 2013 won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in American poetry.
The 29th Aiken Taylor celebration will take place March 24 and 25. Vice-Chancellor John McCardell will present the award to Ponsot at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, in Convocation Hall. Ponsot’s reading will follow the presentation. On the afternoon before, David Yezzi (Johns Hopkins University, the New Criterion, and the Hopkins Review) will deliver the Aiken Taylor lecture on Marie Ponsot's career at 4:30 p.m. in the McGriff Alumni House. Yezzi has lectured previously on Aiken Taylor honorees Louise Gluck and William Logan. Receptions will follow both events.
While raising her children as a single mother, Marie Ponsot never gave up on poetry: “I did learn one great, crucial thing, that I think every writer should be taught; that you can always find ten minutes in the day to write.” And write she did: six collections of poetry; more than 35 translations of fairy tales and fables from the French to English; and two books on the fundamentals of writing, still used in classrooms today.
Ponsot taught in the graduate programs at Queens College for 30 years, as well as at Beijing United University, the Poetry Center of the YMHA, New York University, and, most recently, Columbia University. Her honors include the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize, a creative writing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shaughnessy Medal of the Modern Language Association, and the Robert Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Society of America.
Ponsot is a formalist—saying that forms “create an almost bodily pleasure in the poet. ... The forms are not restrictive. They pull things out of you. They help you remember”—who thinks poetry should be deeply pleasurable, even fun: “We need to get back to the joy of being a poet—not have it always be written in anguish, or have to be mean spirited or edgy and black-browed and ominous ... Poetry should just be a great joy, and we should have perfect freedom to enjoy it in that simpleminded way.”
Twenty-nine years ago, through the generosity of Dr. K. P. A. Taylor, the Sewanee Review established an annual award honoring a distinguished American poet for the work of a career. Howard Nemerov was the first poet honored and was followed by Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, and W. S. Merwin. Other recipients of this important prize include Maxine Kumin, Wendell Berry, Donald Hall, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, William Logan, Debora Greger, and just last year, Dana Gioia.