Ed Roberson

The PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, established by a bequest from Hunce Voelcker, this award is given to a poet whose distinguished and growing body of work to date represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature. The poet honored by the award is one for whom the exceptional promise seen in earlier work has been fulfilled, and who continues to mature with each successive volume of poetry. The award is given in even-numbered years and carries a stipend of $5,000.

From the Judges’ Citation

Since the publication of his first collection, When Thy King Is A Boy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970), Ed Roberson has been reinventing contemporary poetics. His energized, formally innovative syntax finds shape for his primary subject: the common bond of humankind and nature. The author of nine collections of poetry, Roberson is currently a Distinguished Artist in Residence at Northwestern University. He grew up in Pittsburgh and has worked in a limnology lab, a graphic design office, an aquazoo, and a steel mill. All of these experiences find their way into his poems. “Witness is much more beautiful than testimony,” he says. “I always assumed that that was the beauty of poetry.” Roberson exercises and questions the tenets of the BlackArts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s through poems that explore the expansiveness of black life in America; he works to “find the erasure, and then erase it,” he has said. His visual-spatial inventions and disjunctive multiple voices seek to traverse the fragmented nature of experience, “to score it, map it out, sing it all at one time.” He is Dickinsonian in his use of abstractions and a descendant of Phillis Wheatley in his relationship to irony and dramatic shifts. Ed Roberson is rightly regarded as the lyric father of ecopoetics and his ongoing body of work exerts a profound force in urgent times.”

2016 Judges

Catherine Barnett is the author of The Game of Boxes (Graywolf Press, 2012), winner of the James Laughlin Award, and Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced (Alice James Books, 2004). Her honors include a Whiting Writer’s Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She teaches in graduate programs at NYU and Hunter College and works as an independent editor. She has degrees from the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and from Princeton University, where she has taught as a lecturer in the Lewis Center for the Arts.

Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The Best American Poetry. His first book, Please, won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. He is an associate professor in English and creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta.

Tina Chang is the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. The first woman named to this position, she was raised in New York City. She is the author of the poetry collections Half-Lit Houses and Of Gods & Strangers (Four Way Books) and co-editor of the anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (W.W. Norton, 2008). Her poems have appeared in American Poet, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, and The New York Times among others.


Past Winners

Jane Kenyon, Franz Wright, C.K. Williams, Heather McHugh, Frederick Seidel, Robert Pinsky, Linda Gregg, Kimiko Hahn, Marilyn Hacker, Toi Derricotte, and Frank Bidart.

Click here for additional information, including submission guidelines, for the award.