By Megan Petersen '15, Copy Editor
Timothy Donnelly, author of The Cloud Corporation, was awarded a Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award at Scripps College on April 19. Katharine Larson was also awarded a Kate Tufts Discovery Award.
The Kingsley Tufts Award is bestowed annually upon one mid-career author of an original work of poetry and is worth $100,000, intended to allow the recipient “to work on his or her craft for a while without paying bills,” according to the late Mrs. Tufts. The award is not intended for an older poet late in that poet’s career.
Linda Gregerson, chair poet, said that Donnelly’s book “just bowled [the judges] over this year.” The Cloud Corporation “juxtapos[es] the infinitely malleable landscape of the imagination and the flat-out mortar-and-brick war of spreadsheets and internal audits of accommodation to reality and the everyday and the pragmatic, and in some instances, the deadening and corporate,” Gregerson said.
“I have this terrible capacity to both believe in almost anything and also simultaneously to disbelie[ve] in it. And I’m kind of finding myself in the throes of that capacity right now. I’m sure that I’m here, but it seems to be possible that this can’t actually be happening,” Donnelly said. “Because I couldn’t quite believe this was really happening, I didn’t feel in touch with the strong emotional force that this was happening, just underneath the threshold of my availability until I compelled myself to think about it this way: that at some point during the judging, my book passed through all [the judges’] hands and through their minds, too...and it blows my mind that they kept coming back to it, and that they did choose it.”
The Kate Tufts Discovery award, worth $10,000, goes annually to a poet for that poet’s first published book. Katherine Larson received the award for her book Radial Symmetry. In addition to being a poet, Larson is also a research scientist and field ecologist. Many of her poems reflect her self-proclaimed “love of cephalopods” and include anecdotes from her adventures as a researcher.
“I am convinced that the combination of the work she does in the world is absolutely central to the strength and originality of her work as a poet,” Gregerson said of Larson. “The work she does as an ecologist and a scientist has in common with her books as a poet a quality of luminous attentiveness. [...] I think we often imagine
wonder as a quality that we inevitably have to lose as we grow into increased certainty. Katherine [Larson]’s work all together is a stunning reminder that wonder is a cultivated attitude and that if we’re very lucky, and very good, and very steadfast, it can be a faculty that increases for us.”
“It’s a very challenging job, because there’s a lot of good work out there,” said Gregerson during her remarks prior to announcing the names of the poets. Gregerson said she wished the ceremony could go on all night so that she could read poetry selections from the runners up: Ed Roberson for To See the Earth Before the End of the World, Christian Wiman for Every Riven Thing, Julie Hanson for Unbeknownst and Shane McCrae for Mule.
Keynote speaker Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, No Name Woman), simultaneously solemn and playful, mused about poets and poems. “The power of the poet is to face mystery,” Kingston said. After reading a portion of Donnelly’s poetry, she exclaimed, “Oh, the pleasure of having poetry in my mouth, feeling it in my body and ears.”
Kingston also read lines of the winners’ work, lauding Donnelly and Larson for their work and accomplishments.
Each poet also read selections from their work, and the ceremony’s attendees each also received a book with poems from each winner of both awards since 1997.
The Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards, based at Claremont Graduate University, are awarded annually in Claremont.