Archive for April 8th, 2015

Poet X.J. Kennedy wins $50K award – and he deserves it!

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

The reason this man looks happy.

One of the greatly beloved figures on the American poetry scene is X.J. Kennedy, known to his friends as “Joe” – though he’s too little known. (We’ve written about the 85-year-old poet here and here.)

Let’s work on the “little known” part. That may change a little bit with today’s announcement that Poets & Writers has just made him the winner of the ninth annual Jackson Poetry Prize. The $50,000 prize is awarded each year to an American poet of exceptional talent “who deserves wider recognition,” according to the Poets & Writers website. (See? The P&W folks also think he’s too little known.) “The award is among the most substantial given to an American poet, and is designed to provide what all poets need: time and encouragement to write.”

Kennedy was selected by a panel of three judges: the poets Heather McHugh, Vijay Seshadri, and Rosanna Warren. Here’s the citation that went with the award:

“X. J. Kennedy’s forms are perennial, his rhetoric is at once elaborate and immediate, and his language and diction are always of the American moment. He translates the human predicament into poetry perfectly balancing wit, savagery, and compassion. His subtly dissonant rhymes and side-stepping meters carry us through the realms of puzzlement and sorrow to an intimated grace. The size of his poems is small but their scope is vast.”

Previous recipients of the Jackson Poetry Prize are Claudia Rankine (2014), Arthur Sze (2013), Henri Cole (2012), James Richardson (2011), Harryette Mullen (2010), Linda Gregg (2009), Tony Hoagland (2008), and Elizabeth Alexander (2007).

kennedy_rgbKennedy’s many books of poetry include Nude Descending a Staircase (1961), his first collection, which won a Lamont Award, Cross Ties, and The Lords of Misrule. In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New & Selected Poems (2007) was an American Library Association “Notable Book.” His most recent titles include Fits of Concision: Collected Poems of Six or Fewer Lines (2014) and a comic novel, A Hoarse Half-human Cheer (2015). He is the author of 24 children’s books.

In 2009, he received the Poetry Society of America’s Robert Frost medal. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and Poetry, and others, as well as in 287 anthologies. He is also a former poetry editor for Paris Review. His awards include a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Bess Hokin Prize for Poetry magazine, and a Los Angeles Times book prize. Kennedy has taught at the Universities of Michigan, North Carolina (Greensboro), and California (Irvine), as well as Wellesley, Tufts, and Leeds. On a more personal note, P&W writes: “He and Dorothy M. Kennedy have collaborated on two children’s books and five children. They sometimes host six grandchildren in Lexington, Mass.”

I always assumed the “X” stood for Xavier. What else could it be? Not so, according to P&W: the New Jersey-born poet was “irked by the hardship of having the name of Joseph Kennedy, he stuck the X on and has been stuck with it ever since.” He studied at my own alma mater, the University of Michigan, and also at Columbia.

Dana Gioia, who coauthored the textbook An Introduction to Poetry, said the award is “long overdue” – that was on someone’s Facebook page. I can’t find where he actually said that, but it sounds about right. The kudos are rolling around the social media – as an educator, editor, and mentor, he has been a champion of many (and one of mine, too – thank you, Joe!)

Poets & Writers will host a reading and reception in honor of Kennedy in May in New York City. Wish I could attend! Many of us will be there in spirit. Read his “The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once” – one of my all-time favorites – over here.