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UNT's First Rilke Poetry Prize-Winner Announced

by Jerome Weeks 9 Feb 2012 3:54 PM

Last August, UNT announced it was creating an annual poetry prize worth ten grand. The Rilke Prize is to be awarded to a ‘mid-career poet’ who’s written a work the past year of “exceptional artistry.” And now they’ve found one.


Last August, the University of North Texas’ Creative Writing Program announced it was inaugurating a $10,000 poetry prize named for the great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, best known for the “Duino Elegies.” The Rilke Prize is designed to recognize a book published in the previous year that ‘demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision written by a mid-career poet” — the ‘mid-career’ part makes it unusual among poetry awards.

The first poetry collection to win the Rilke is Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains, published by Copper Canyon Press — it was a New York Times Notable Book for 2011 and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award (NBCC winners will be announced March 8).The UNT judges declare that Kasischke’s writing “reveals a penetrating insight into what makes people work and not work through her characteristic emotional range, wit, surprising and uncanny imagery.”

In The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Stephen Burt said that of Kasischke’s books, Space, in Chains might be the “most ambitious — and the most disturbing, as it strives to comprehend first and last things…. No poet has tried so hard to cut through suburban American illusion while respecting the lives, young and old, that it nurtures or saves. “

Personally, I happen to love “The photograph album in a junk shop” — which lists the various photo images (“the shadow of that terrible / animal with horns / at every petting zoo”) and concludes with Grandma — “her face waits on every page / like an axe left behind on the moon.” And there’s an aside in Kasischke’s opening to “Time.”  She mentions “a twentieth-century dream of Europe” — and then helpfully adds, “all horrors, and pastries.”

A succinct, 21st-century update to Stephen Dedalus’ “shattered glass and toppling masonry.”

The Rilke prize rules stipulate the poet must come to UNT. Kasischke, who teaches at the University of Michigan, will be giving a reading at UNT April 19, and another at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture April 20.

Laura Kasischke has written seven previous poetry collections and eight novels, including The Life Before Her Eyes, which was made into a 2007 film starring Uma Thurman, and Suspicious River, which became a 2000 film with Molly Parker. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA grants and several Pushcart Prizes.

Rilke Prize entrants must have published at least two previous books of poetry, and the book of poetry to be considered must have been published the previous year. The three finalists for the first Rilke Prize were: Kevin Prufer’s In a Beautiful Country, Dana Levin’s Sky Burial and Wayne Miller’s The City, Our City.

The full info follows:

Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains, published by Copper Canyon Press, has won the first annual UNT Rilke Prize. $10,000 prize recognizes a book written by a mid-career poet and published in the preceding year that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision. In this collection that explores imaginative freedom in the face of personal loss, Kasischke reveals a penetrating insight into what makes people work and not work through her characteristic emotional range, wit, surprising and uncanny imagery, and an intensity created through spare and radiant language. We see ourselves as “space, in chains,” bound and free, challenged by the book’s transfigurations of anxiety and grief into tribute and play. Kasischke will read at University of North Texas on Thursday, April 19 and at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture on Friday, April 20.

Kasischke has published eight collections of poetry and eight novels. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other awards. Two of her novels have been made into feature length films, and her poetry has been published in Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and elsewhere. Kasischke teaches at the University of Michigan, and lives in Chelsea, Michigan, with her husband and son.

Schedule of Events
Thursday, April 19, 2012: UNT Reading, Eagle Student Services Center, Room 255, 8pm
Q & A, 4-5pm, location to be determined
Friday, April 20, 2012: The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 6:30pm Reception,
Reading at 7:30pm

Kasischke’s other awards include the Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Elmer Bobst Award for Emerging Writers, the Juniper Prize, the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books, and several Pushcart Prizes. Space, in Chains was listed as one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2011 and has just been named a finalist for this year’s National Book Critic Circle Award in Poetry. Her other collections of poetry include Lilies, Without, Gardening in the Dark, Wild Brides, Housekeeping in a Dream, Fire and Flower and What It Wasn’t. Her novels include The Raising, Suspicious River, White Bird in a Blizzard, and The Life Before Her Eyes, which is the basis for the film of the same name.

The judges also selected three finalists for this year’s Rilke Prize: Kevin Prufer’s In a Beautiful Country (Four Way Books), Dana Levin’s Sky Burial (Copper Canyon), and Wayne Miller’s The City, Our City (Milkweed Editions).

Fountain pen image outfront from the Twenty Somethings website.