Library of Congress Honors Poet Gerald Stern


Eleanor by Gerald Stern

She kept dropping her papers in front of no. 1 Fifth
which first started when she got out of a yellow DeSoto
and it was either a headwaiter or a doorman who rushed out
to pick them up and help her into the lobby
where Henry Wallace was waiting; and you should know
that though she hated his theory of eggs she sided
with him on other things, and it was Franklin
they discussed and it was the Age of the See-Saw
and the Cardboard Shoe, and both of them screamed with laughter
at Oysters Rockefeller, just imagine naming
food for him, how about calling soup
Cream of Carnegie, how about putting your canines
to work on Fried Frick or Chopped Harriman;
and God they hated Cardinal Spellman even before
he was the priest of war and of free busing,
and both of them loved the Buddha and listened together
to the sound of the Minetta creek suddenly surfacing
in the lobby across the street—no. 2—and they stood
back to back to see who was taller; and everywhere
in America boys of fifteen read her column
before they read the Funnies and put her picture
beside the one of their maternal grandmother’s
though girls were more wary—except a few—and Adlai
loved her, and Harry, and Lyndon—and in the church
of the Ascension in front of the John La Farge
or back of the sculpted angel she shook hands
and half bent down the way a tall woman does
to kiss someone; it could be any century
and it could be her friend or a loving stranger,
a former slave—or a boy of fifteen.


POETRY NEWS:  The Library of Congress will award the 2012 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry to Gerald Stern for his book “Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992.”

Stern  read selections from his work on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. The 2012 prize—the 12th to be given and the first to be given for a book of collected poems—is awarded for the most distinguished book of poetry published in the preceding two years, 2010 and 2011. The volume was published by W. W. Norton in 2010.

Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, calls Stern “one of America’s great poet-proclaimers in the Whitmanic tradition—with moments of humor and whimsy, and an enduring generosity, his work celebrates the mythologizing power of the art.”

The panel of judges for this year’s prize included poet Kate Daniels, selected by 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Philip Levine; poet Juan Felipe Herrera, selected by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington; and scholar Betty Sue Flowers, selected by the Bobbitt family.

Daniels said, “Stern’s historical consciousness, and the perhaps-paradoxical, eternally optimistic spirit that infuses these poems is an extraordinary achievement—not only for our time, but for all time. That an individual human voice could rise above the contemporary clamor as distinctively, and with such intelligence, moral force, humor and love as Stern’s does in poem after poem—well, what can I say, but thank you to the gods of poetry.”

“Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992″ contains the first six books of Stern’s half-century-long career—books that received the Lamont Prize, the Melville Cane Award and the Paterson Prize. Publisher’s Weekly said the poetry in “Early Collected Poems” is filled with “the sensibility and the music of speech” and “a quest after the deepest truths of the unadorned spirit.”

Stern was born in Pittsburgh in 1925. The son of Eastern European immigrants, he was educated at the University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University and the University of Paris. Stern taught for many years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has also held positions at Temple University, New England College—where he co-founded the Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry—and Drew University.

Stern’s 17th book of poems, “In Beauty Bright: Poems,” was published in September, and a forthcoming book of essays, “Stealing History,” will be released this fall. His other poetry collections include “Save the Last Dance: Poems” (2008), “Everything is Burning” (2005) and “This Time: New and Selected Poems” (1998), which won the National Book Award.

His additional honors include the Wallace Stevens Award, the Bess Hokin Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. He has received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. From 2000 to 2002, he was poet laureate of New Jersey.

Stern lives in Lambert, N.J., with his wife, the poet Anne-Marie Macari.

The Bobbitt Prize, a biennial $10,000 award, recognizes a book of poetry written by an American and published during the preceding two years, or the lifetime achievement of an American poet. The prize is donated by the family of Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory, and awarded at the Library of Congress. Bobbitt was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s sister. While a graduate student in Washington, D.C., during the 1930s, Rebekah Johnson met college student O.P. Bobbitt when they both worked in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress. They married and returned to Texas.

Past winners of the Bobbitt Prize:

  • 2010 Lucia Perillo for “Inseminating the Elephant”
  • 2008 Charles Wright for Lifetime Achievement, Bob Hicok for “This Clumsy Living”
  • 2006 W.S. Merwin for “Present Company”
  • 2004 B.H. Fairchild for “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest”
  • 2002 Alice Fulton for “Felt”
  • 2000 David Ferry for “Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems”
  • 1998 Frank Bidart for “Desire”
  • 1996 Kenneth Koch for “One Train”
  • 1994 A.R. Ammons for “Garbage”
  • 1992 Louise Glück for “Ararat, “Mark Strand for “The Continuous Life”

Library of Congress

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Washington, D.C. 20540-1600

Voice: 202.707.2905
Fax: 202.707.9199

Library of Congress National Book Festival

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