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 [email protected]. For more information, please visit our FAQ page.

Featured Winner

Judges: Sherwin Bitsui, Cynthia Cruz, Terrance Hayes, Claudia Keelan, Bao Phi

Obit, Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press)
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From the judges’ citation: “Victoria Chang’s Obit was an extraordinary collection among a pool of extraordinary collections for this year’s award. Obit’s conceptual brilliance is wired with intensity and intimacy. Chang writes about deep personal grief in a way that feels expansive and inviting, never sacrificing intelligence and heart. One of the strengths of this remarkable book is its resistance to reduction. Chang employs elements of journalism, essay, and poetry amid her columns of justified text. The traditional elegy is reformulated with the immediacy of an obituary notice. Chang shifts between lyrical prose poems and maverick tankas. A sensational, caesura-filled sequence of fourteen-liners reads as if she was channeling Sylvia Plath and Gerard Manley Hopkins at the same time. She shifts between familial elegies, self-elegies, and cultural elegies until the elegy becomes almost unrecognizable to itself. It is a love poem, testimonial, archive, catalog. Like the decorum of the elegy, the decorum of the obituary is disrupted by music, mischief, and defiance. The news of Obit alerts us to the death of ‘The Ocean,’ ‘The Bees,’ ‘Privacy,’ ‘Civility,’ ‘America.’ The news alerts us to the idiosyncrasy in the death of ‘Hindsight,’ ‘Clothes,’ ‘Tomas Tranströmer,’ ‘Victoria Chang.’ Mourning is enlivened by the poet’s mercurial meditations on language and loss. The shock of trauma is shaped into an alertness for life.

“The singularity of memorial loss merges with the ubiquity of quotidian loss, but these diurnal poems do not inspire resolution so much as resolve. A reader finds the societal and spiritual tethered to the everyday. William Carlos Williams famously wrote that men die for lack of the news found in poetry. Victoria Chang finds the poetry in the news of the obituary. She mines a resourcefulness instigated by grief. She reveals the levity tethered to gravity; the wonder tethered to uncertainty. ‘Death isn’t the enemy,’ Chang writes, ‘Knowledge of death is the enemy.’ Her poems are shaped by the knowledge of the unknowable. Somehow haunting and ecstatic, Obit is shaped by the skills of a remarkable poet.”

Obit book cover

2021 Finalists

Conjure, Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press)
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Obit, Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press)
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The Age of Phillis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Wesleyan University Press)
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Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, John Murillo (Four Way Books)
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Blessed as We Were: Late Selected and New Poems, 2000–2018, Gerald Stern (W. W. Norton & Company)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection finalists

Eligibility

  • A candidate’s work must be a collection of poetry published by a U.S. trade publisher between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021.
  • 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 [email protected]. 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 [email protected] to your address book, as it will be the main point of contact from PEN America.

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