The Poetry Foundation gives an annual prize to a poet who merits recognition for a lifetime of achievement. The 2015 winner of the $100,000 Ruth Lily Award is Alice Notley, known for her epic poetry that navigates the nature of the self. This is one of the Poetry Foundation’s most coveted and honorable awards for US poets. The eleven-person committee includes Poetry editor Don Share, who was kind enough to talk with me over email about Notley’s incredible accomplishment, and the poetry and indie lit scene at large.
Meredith Maltby: What traits do you look for in a recipient of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize? Did anything surprise you in this year’s search?
Don Share: We’re obliged by the terms of Miss Lilly’s gift to honor "A living US poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition.” So that’s our remit, and we stick to it very closely. Though the list of Lilly Prize winners through the years is in many ways an all-star list, it’s also important to find someone who isn’t what you might call a ‘usual suspect.’ Everything about Notley is surprising and fascinating; and I’ve written about that in our July/August introduction to a selection of her work that addresses poetry and disobedience… a theme for our times.
MM: The prize is, admittedly, quite a lot of money. Does this challenge the stereotype of poetry as an unprofitable undertaking?
DS: All stereotypes are both true and false. Of course there’s money in poetry; and of course, it’s rare for most of us to get any of it. In the end, it’s the poetry that has to have value, a value beyond the remunerative.
MM: What do you see for the future of poetry and independent presses?
DS: The future for poetry and independent presses looks to me a lot like the present: really great! Poetry is alive and singing, and kicking and screaming, too. I’ve been around a long time now, and can’t recall a more vital time for poetry. All we have to do is make the most of it, do important things with the opportunities we have—and to create more opportunities for those who haven’t had them before.
Alice Notley has published over twenty-five books of poetry, many of them award-winning. She grew up in Needles, California and earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Notley currently lives in Paris.