2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award for Poetry
Adam Day (nominated by Erica Wright of Guernica)
The PEN Emerging Writers Awards were established to promote talented up-and-coming authors whose writing has been featured in distinguished literary journals across the country, but who have yet to publish book-length works.
Thanks to a generous gift from the anonymous donor who sponsors the PEN/W. G. Sebald Award for a Fiction Writer in Mid-Career, PEN will provide prizes to three promising new writers—one fiction writer, one nonfiction writer, and poet—at a crucial early moment in their careers. Each recipient will be awarded $1,660 and honored at PEN’s annual Literary Awards Ceremony.
Candidates for the Emerging Writers Awards are nominated by the editors of approximately 20 to 25 print and online journals, who will submit letters of nomination and writing samples on behalf of promising writers whose work they have published. The list of journals will be selected by PEN’s Awards Committee, in consultation with the donor, to represent a rich and diverse range of literary voices and perspectives, and will be reviewed annually.
Reif Larsen, David Lehman, Robin Romm
From the Judges’ Citation
“Adam Day’s exceptional talent manifests itself in lyric outbursts, clever figures of speech, and a conceit capable of sustaining an extended sequence. He adopts the badger as his protagonist, just as Ted Hughes favored the crow, and begins with an account, arresting in its strangeness, of how ‘the Gods’ built ‘bodies, like Badger’s.’ After pouring ‘the eyes in with a ladle,’ they ‘sprinkle / hair onto bald, moist limbs and faces, / like boiled potatoes.’ If one test of a young poet’s skill is the freshness of his similes, Day aces the exam. The priest who touched a boy in his ‘special place’ exposed his own ‘little man—like the neck of a goose / tethered to a telephone pole.’
‘Elegy from His Children’ elevates the sentence fragment to a rhetorical maneuver at the service of an obituary: ‘Retired professor / of androgyny. Premature evacuation. Made cats / laugh. Fought walls. Red-bearded hyena’s ghost.’ When, in a third poem, Badger speaks for himself, it is with pungent wit. ‘I was a member / of the Yachats Communist Party for a time, / initially to meet women / as liberal with their bodies / as with their politics. Eventually, / I embraced Marxism, which is to say / I had lingering doubts / about my masculinity.’ Perhaps others could have written the first of these sentences. But it took nerve and imagination to leap into the second
Day is unafraid to conjoin historical and fictional personages for effects that startle and provoke, as in ‘Combine,’ in which Stalin, Goya, Queen Anne, and Tennessee Williams are among the cast of characters. Impressive, too, is the poem in which Day juxtaposes excerpts ‘From an Interview with Kenzaburo Oe, with Stage Directions from Synge’s Riders to the Sea.’
This poet’s technical prowess, adventurousness, and wide-ranging curiosity give pleasure now and the promise of a great deal more to come.”
Brett Fletcher Lauer (nominated by Robert Casper of jubilat)