Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Fellows

In case you haven't heard, A. E. Stallings and Kay Ryan have just been announced as MacArthur Fellows for the Class of 2011.

What does this mean for poetry, especially the poetry that we promote?

 First I have to say that if it weren't for Alicia (A.E. Stallings), I wouldn't know half of what I know. In the middle part of the last decade, when I got professionally serious about poetry, I sought out some "leaders" to figure out where I should go for instruction and publication. Alicia was the most helpful of many helpful people and directed me to the Eratosphere, which helped me hone my critical and metrical crafts.

But what do Ryan and Stalling's awards mean for not just me but all of poetry?

First we ought to note that Kay Ryan's award comes on the heels of her Laureateship (2008-2010) and Pulitzer (2011). This doesn't detract from her award (and, honestly, Ryan does such a good job of writing that not much should detract from her awards) but it does "place it" in meaning for poetry--here we are, adding more laurels to the queen. Nothing wrong with that and I'm glad it's not going to other, similarly aged famous female poets whose work I prefer slightly above the average grindcore album. Ultimately it's the less surprising of the two awards--but here's to hoping we get some more amazing work out of Ryan from it!

Stallings' award is more from left-field. Though I would argue most working poets are familiar with her work, Stallings' doesn't have the mountain of accolades (nor the name recognition) Ryan has. Part of this is the beauty of the MacArthur foundation--good for them for supporting A. E. Stallings.

But what's more important is that Stallings is, if I may wrench a term, a "compleat poet." Her works run the gamut from light verse to the scholarly-and-accessible to complex undertones (see "The Ghost Ship" along with the other poems there) to translations (hello? De Rerum Natura? AWESOME). Her work is vital and alive and valuable. If anyone's going to out-Fagles Robert Fagles in the 21st century or contribute that verse to our common life and the lives of our children's children, Stallings is a heavy contender.

Moreover, perhaps of the utmost importance, she is a master of form.

Her receipt of a major award (which I hope is the first of many) signals the end of our obsession with the poor flattery of prose we have allowed "our poetry" to become. I, along with many, applaud it. Congratulations, Alicia.

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