Pulitzer, Schmulitzer the only better prize for a poet to win than the Kingsley Tufts is a Nobel.
Thats quite simply because the annual award, administered by our own Claremont Graduate University, carries a stipend of a cool $100,000.
Poetry, if you hadnt heard, while certainly the greatest of the writing arts, is also the least remunerative. There isnt a poet who makes a hundred grand a year on the sales of books alone.
Whereas each tinpot lawyer and principal deputy assistant manager of pothole repair in every city from Calexico to Kennebunkport cracks the 100 mark just for showing up.
No wonder a newborns mum and da tuck Boalt Hall: A Successful Applicants Tale into the crib with the swaddling clothes. No parent has ever taken a look at baby and cried, My God, please let the kid be a versifier!
As a pale undergrad, I scribbled the odd line myself, and edited the poetry mag, and for my sins Claremont-associated friend Peggy Phelps asked me to join her on the committee that helps administer the Tufts prize.
We dont choose the winner a distinguished group of other poets does that.
But we have the pleasure of announcing the prize, and of throwing a big bash to celebrate the happy occasion.
So Im really pleased to introduce you to the poetry of Tom Sleigh, the Brooklyn-based author of Space Walk, the book that won him the 2008 Kingsley.
ts tough-guy, American stuff, the opposite of the minimalist aesthetic that rules in some poetry circles. Plus the fact that many of his poems are about a childhood spent as the son of an aeronautics-industry father will resonate with more than a few Southern Californians.
From his Space Station: My mother and I and the dog were orbiting / In the void that follows after happiness / Of an intimate gesture: her hand stroking the dog’s head / And the dog looking up, expectant, into her eyes. And from Oracle: Because the burn’s unstable, burning too hot / in the liquid hydrogen suction line … he drives with wife and sons/ the twisting road at dawn to help with the Saturday / test his division’s working on: the crowd / of engineers surrounding a pit dug in snow.
Children of von Karman, offspring of von Braun, who says American poetry is too abstract for words?
Sleighs prize, named after a Claremont-associated CPA who also wrote poetry, was endowed by Kingsley Tufts widow. She also created the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, presented to a poet of genuine promise. Janice N. Harringtons first book of poetry, Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone, will be awarded the $10,000 Kate. Harrington writes of African-American lives in the old South: The sound of banjo strings / plucked by a colored boy is the sound / of twanging, of tur-pen-tine, pine tar, plank, / of pennies of rain spattered on scalded tin.
We invite you to come hear Sleigh and Harrington read at The Tufts Poetry Award ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on April 15 in the Colburn School’s Thayer Hall next door to MOCA in downtown Los Angeles, followed by a book signing. For more information, call (909) 621-8974 or visit www.cgu.edu/tufts.