Tufts award for Rapture, her second collection of poetry. “Because of the fame the award brought, now when I speak about poetry to graduate and undergraduate students around the country, they listen harder – to the poems. And when I speak of the importance of poetry to the human spirit and to our common human endeavor, they listen harder – to their own spirits.”

B.H. Fairchild, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award in 1999 for his collection The Art of the Lathe, remarked that the award “enabled me to buy a year away from my teaching job in order to devote myself entirely, for the first time, to writing. The result of this was my fourth book, Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, which otherwise would never have been completed.”

In 2002, Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

Several winners of the Kingsley Tufts award especially appreciated the affirmation of the award’s judges. The judging panel is made up of five distinguished members of the American poetry community, all of whom are accomplished poets in their own right.

“Good reviews don’t mean much if your fellow poets don’t think you’re very good,” said Henri Cole, winner of the 2004 Kingsley Tufts award for Middle Earth. “It is poets’ regard for one another – in the medium of language – that keeps poetry alive. To a writer mid-career, who doesn’t know how good he is, the Tufts award is a very big deal, like a Mercedes, or an Oscar, or a Purple Heart.”

Kate Tufts Discovery Award

The Kate Tufts Discovery Award was created in 1994, a year after the inception of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. It is presented to a first book by a poet of genuine promise. Harrington, an author of poetry and children’s books, has certainly shown such promise with Even the Hollow My Body Made is Gone. In addition to the Kate Tufts award, the collection was selected from over 900 manuscripts to win the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, and Harrington herself is the recent recipient of a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.

While the Kate Tufts award offers financial compensation and increased visibility, it also offers additional, intangible benefits. Many poets labor for years without receiving meaningful feedback, save for piles of rejection letters from literary journals and perhaps, for the luckiest and most talented, a handful of published pieces. Even then, while getting a poem published is encouraging, one can never be sure about the audience: its size, its response, or even if it really exists.

"The award is a confidence builder,” said Harrington. “It's that bit of light in the darkness that allows you to see your way, so that you can keep trying to write your best poetry."

Eric McHenry, who won the 2007 Kate Tufts award for Potscrubber Lullabies, also noted the value of affirmation:

“Writing poetry is hard work, not least because it requires me to convince myself that the world needs my poems. The best thing about winning this award is the feeling that my book has found some enthusiastic readers, that it isn’t so unwelcome in the world.”

Origins

Kate Tufts established the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award at Claremont Graduate University to honor the memory of her late husband. Kingsley Tufts was a rare individual who enjoyed great success in both artistic and business ventures.

Kinsgley held executive positions in the Los Angeles shipyards and wrote poetry as his avocation. In the 1930s, his poetry was featured in magazines and journals such as Harpers, the American Scholar, the New Yorker, Esquire, and Coronet. Later he began writing fiction, but with the onset of World War II his time and attention was diverted back to his work at the shipyards. After the war he returned to writing and his stories were published in several major magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post.

Kingsley passed away on Christmas Day in 1991, shortly after a poetry reading for friends. The following year Kate would move out of their house and into a condo in Santa Monica. The home she had shared with Kingsley was sold, as was the majority of the couple’s estate, to fund an endowment to help poets. Though she had no prior affiliation with CGU, when Kate met with then-President John Maguire, and visited the Claremont campus, she quickly became convinced it was the perfect home for her poetry prize.

When the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award was created in 1993, it carried with it $50,000 in prize money. The following year the Kate Tufts Discovery Award was created, with $5,000 in prize money. Over the years – as the endowment grows – award compensation has increased to its current levels.

Kate Tufts passed away in her condo in June 1997, at the age of 86. Though she didn’t live to see the award she created grow to become one of the biggest in the world, she certainly took delight in the awards during her final years.

“I’ll always be grateful to Kate Tufts for having the vision to endow such a program,” said Barbara Hamby, who won the 1996 Kate Tufts Discovery Award for Delirium. “I remember with pleasure meeting her, especially her wry sense of humor.”

Indeed, recurring comments from those who met and knew Kate Tufts involve her sardonic wit. Doug Anderson, Kate Tufts award winner in 1995 for The Moon Reflected Fire, remembers it well:

“One of my favorite memories of the trip to Claremont was meeting Kate Tufts. She came into the room at the Claremont Graduate School grumbling that she couldn’t smoke in there, and then she stopped and looked at Tom Lux [that year’s Kingsley Tufts award recipient] and myself. Kate Tufts looked at us and said, ‘You don’t know how glad I am that this year’s awards were given to a couple of really disreputable poets.’”

Present and Future

The 16th Annual Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards ceremony was held on April 15, 2008, at the Colburn School’s Thayer Hall in Los Angeles. Robert Pinsky, a previous poet laureate of the United States, and Robert Wrigley, a past recipient of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award himself in 2000, helped introduce the poets – and were also involved in judging the submissions received in 2007.

This year 299 volumes of poetry were submitted for consideration. These works were read by three preliminary judges – poets Derick Burleson, Eugene Gloria, and Barbara Ras – who then selected 35 finalists to be forwarded to the five-member panel.

At the ceremony Wrigley also announced this was to be his last year as a judge and chair of the award. Additionally, fellow judge Alice Quinn, who until recently was the poetry editor at the New Yorker, is stepping down. Replacing them will be poets Linda Gregerson and Paul Muldoon. Gregerson is a 2007 National Book Award finalist, Guggenheim Fellow, and received the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award in 2003 for her collection, Waterborne.

“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Kingsley Tufts endowment,” she remarked. “I’m convinced I finished my fourth book of poems a good two years sooner than would otherwise have been the case.”

That fourth book is Gregerson’s 2007 collection Magnetic North, which has won the Pushcart Prize for poetry and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Muldoon is an accomplished poet and well-regarded champion of poetry. He won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for his poetry collection Moy Sand and Gravel, and has been selected to replace Quinn as poetry editor of the New Yorker. Muldoon has been described by the Times Literary Supplement as “the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War.”

The 2009 Tufts winners are scheduled to be announced February 2009, with an awards ceremony – that is free and open to the public – held the following April. Those recipients will no doubt share in the excitement and continue the legacy of a world-class prize that continues developing world-class poets.

Selected poem from Space Walk

Nobody


Line after line smearing off into elephantine
scrawls as she tries to recall which way
the pencil goes, my friend’s wife who can’t organize
her mind to spell out her name sits staring

at the bookshelf bowed under the weight
of the thousand thousand rivulets of print
she can’t remember writing. Her mind keeps scabbing
over – and then she picks it and picks it

until it bleeds . . . and she’s herself again,
her heart rejoicing that she’s Anne and not
someone other who afflicts her like a stranger

hiding in her bedroom, whispering with affable,
red-faced jocularity that if you’re nobody
and nobody’s tormenting you why do you cry out?

Excerpted from Space Walk by Tom Sleigh. Copyright @ 2007 by Tom Sleigh. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Selected poem from Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone

What There Was


Pine, catalpa, pin oak, persimmon,
but not tree.

Hummingbird, hoot owl, martin, crow,
but not bird.

Cannas, honeysuckle, cockscomb, rose,
but not flower.

Wood smoke, corn, dust, outhouse,
but not stench.

A spider spinning in a rain barrel,
the silver dipper by the back porch,
tadpoles shimmying against a concrete bank,
but not silence.

A cotton row, a bucket lowered into a well,
a red dirt road, a winging crow,
but not distance.

A rooster crowing, cows lowing in the evening,
wasps humming beneath the eaves, hounds
baying, hot grease, but not music.

My mother running away at fifteen,
my grandmother lifting a truck to save a life,
an uncle at Pearl Harbor, Webster sitting
at the back of the bus when he looked as white
as they did, but not stories.

The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born
with a goat’s face, the cousin laid on a railroad
track, the fire that burned it all, but not death.

This poem, a snuff tin sated with the hair
of all our dead, my mother’s nighttime talks
with her dead father, my great-grandmother’s
clothes passed down, passed down, but not memory.

Excerpted from Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone by Janice N. Harrington. Copyright @ 2007 by Janice N. Harrington. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.


Janice Harrington reading her poem What There Was

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