Marilyn Hacker wins PEN Voelcker Award

Marilyn Hacker (photo Margaretta Mitchell)

The overly-modest Marilyn Hacker reports that she has won the PEN Voelcker Award. The award recognizes “an American poet whose distinguished and growing body of work to date represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature, . . . for whom the exceptional promise seen in earlier work has been fulfilled, and who continues to mature with each successive volume of poetry.” Judges were Christopher Ricks, Marie Ponsot, and David Ferry. Ponsot was Marilyn’s poetry mentor, which surely sweetens the moment. The citation, which singles out Hacker’s recent tour de force Names, bears reporting here:

“Marilyn Hacker is a splendid poet. A multiplex of cultural layering carries over her poetic powers into her translations. Beyond accuracy and nuanced understanding, she evokes qualities of feeling and tone, full of life. Hacker has translated strong French poets, of course. I also note her early awareness of Francophonic poets, and has translated them to our welcome. This new book, Names, is a beautiful instance of her famous ability to use forms, iambic pentameter, say, rhymed stanzas, say, not to repress the speaking voice by regulating it into a condition of repressed formality but to exploit the resources of forms to set the voice free to be alive, immediate, unformal, there. Her subjects, her occasions, are various—erotic love, the life and look of neighborhoods, in Paris, in New York, the lives and troubles of friends, the besieged worlds of other writers, the outrages of our leaders; and her voice, as called for by her occasions, is joyful, tender, self-amused, and angry, alive—and even in the anger there’s joy, the exhilaration of saying it well, and saying it right to you. Her poems are never guilty of what Empson calls ‘the poet choosing painful subjects less because he feels strongly about them than because he feels it shameful not to feel strong about them.’ And when her poems and translations are expressions of social or political pity and outrage, it is the pity and outrage of an aroused, alive, strong-minded, fair-minded sensibility, not merely a program of convictions. These poems and translations bring life to life.”

Incidentally, you can look for Hacker’s critical essay collection, Unauthorized Voices, due out by the end of this month from the University of Michigan Press’ indispensable Poets on Poetry series.

A virtual wave and a champagne-cork pop from across the pond to my very favorite poet!

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