PEN America Literary Awards PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry

The PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection, established by a bequest from Hunce Voelcker, is given annually to a poet whose distinguished collection of poetry, published in the applicable calendar year, represents a notable and accomplished literary presence. The work will have expanded the scope of American poetry.

The annual award recognizes the importance of the poetry collection as an art form, with no restrictions on the career status of the poet. The award is for a permanent U.S. resident or citizen, of any age and writing in any poetic style, and carries a cash prize of $5,000.

This award was previously administered as the biennial PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

All winners, finalists, and longlisters for this award are eligible to receive PEN America’s official emblems. If you are a publisher and interested in obtaining PEN America’s award emblem, please write to awards@pen.org. For more information, please visit our FAQ page.

Submissions for the 2024 cycle will be accepted June 1–August 1, 2023.

Featured Winner

Judges: Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, Lia Purpura, Safiya Sinclair

 frank: sonnets, Diane Seuss (Graywolf Press)

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From the judges’ citation: “In frank:sonnets, Diane Seuss mines, hones, and honors the traditional sonnet, heeding its essential boundaries and blowing them wide open. Her ability to radically associate and tell stories extends the form far beyond each poem’s initiating moment. The evolution of the sonnet is intertwined with the evolution of self; in Seuss’s hands, the sonnet must evolve to encompass and accompany the intricacies of a contemporary life. 

Her subjects—girl- and womanhood, class and poverty, AIDS, the body, addiction, devastating loss, the very construction of an artist-self—constitute, in and of themselves, rough terrain, but the gut-punches nearly every single poem offers reveals an awareness, a wisdom, and a clarity so precise that it’s possible to experience hurt in beautiful, capacious ways. Poet Robert Frost said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader,” and one feels the writer’s own surprise in poem after poem—that she’s found a way of perceiving, an effortless-seeming method fed by a deep knowledge of form, a singular sensibility, a hard-won sense of humor and absurdity, and life-long commitment to the word. Seuss asks in her first sonnet, “…how do I explain / this restless search for beauty or relief?” For her readers, the answer is unequivocally by way of the poetry itself, the words of a visionary guide, clear-witted reporter, intimate and unsparing friend, and urgent prophet for our time.”

2021 Finalists

Yellow Rain: Poems, Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press)
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Sho, Douglas Kearney (Wave Books)
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Heard-Hoard, Atsuro Riley (University of Chicago Press)
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frank: sonnets, Diane Seuss (Graywolf Press)
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Mutiny, Phillip B. Williams (Penguin Books)
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Eligibility

  • A candidate’s work must be a collection of poetry published by a U.S. trade publisher between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022.
  • The book must be a series of individual poems published by a single living author. Anthologies with multiple authors are ineligible.
  • Individual poems may have been previously published elsewhere; however, if the submitted book includes work previously published in a collection by the author, the submitted book should include significant new work.
  • The author must be a permanent U.S. resident or citizen.
  • If you submit a book for this award, you may not submit it for any additional PEN America Literary Award, with the exception of the PEN Open Book Award. Please note that the PEN/Faulkner Award is not considered a PEN America Literary Award.
  • Self-published books are not eligible.

Submission Guidelines

  • PEN America will only accept submissions from publishers or literary agents. Authors may not submit their own book for this award.
  • On the submission form, please select the award you are submitting to.
  • Please submit verified email addresses on the submission form. Your order cannot be processed without an email address, and this information will be used to later contact you regarding your submission.
  • Upload a PDF file of the galley or final manuscript on the book submissions form. Following pandemic-related protocols, book award submissions will be read as PDF files. Please upload the file saved as BOOKTITLE_AUTHORNAME. For the judges’ convenience, please upload a book file WITHOUT watermarks. Each book file will be kept confidentially between the Literary Awards team and the awards judges. Please note that if a book is longlisted, PEN America may request a physical copy be sent to the judging panel.
  • Upload a high-resolution book jacket photo. This may be used later if the book is longlisted, a finalist, or a winner.
  • Please download the declaration of eligibility. Complete all fields and have the editor or publisher sign to confirm the book’s eligibility. Please upload this document along with the rest of your application on the submission form.
  • Each submission is $85. Please note that due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, we are asking that all submissions payments be made via credit card. Submission fees are not refundable.
  • Submission fees may be waived for publishers whose annual net sales are less than $2 million. In order to have fees waived, have a company official write a letter on company letterhead stating that the press’s annual net sales are less than $2 million. Please send this letter as a PDF attachment to awards@pen.org. Do not submit before emailing this document to the Literary Awards team, as they will provide you with an alternative submission method.
  • Once the submitted book is received and reviewed for eligibility by PEN America, it will be passed along to the judges. Please add awards@pen.org to your address book, as it will be the main point of contact from PEN America.