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Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, for $100,000, to go to Marie Ponsot

PoetryDennis HopperAllen GinsbergWorld War II (1939-1945)

Poet Marie Ponsot will be awarded the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize in June, it was announced Monday. The Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, which comes with an award of $100,000, is given to a poet for lifetime achievement.

Ponsot's career began in the 1950s; her book "True Minds" was the first thing City Lights published after Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." While Ginsberg made a huge cultural splash with "Howl" and became immediately anointed as a significant beat poet, Ponsot took a different route; she was publicly quiet for 25 years. She was raising a family with seven children.

All along, she was writing. Her later publications include 1998's "The Bird Catcher," which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, "Easy" in 2009, "Springing" in 2002, "The Green Dark" in 1988, and 1981's "Admit Impediment." In 2002, she was the co-winner of the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award, which is given for lifetime achievement.

Ponsot was born in 1921 in New York, where she graduated from high school at age 15. By the time she was 19, she had completed a masters in 17th century poetry at Columbia. She wrote for the Catholic Worker and, after World War II was over, traveled to France. She met Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the trip -- and also Claude Ponsot, the painter who would become her husband.

Her marriage fell apart in the 1960s and Ponsot turned to teaching to support her large family, writing poetry when she could steal the time -- "while children slept and popovers popped," she told The Times in 2002. "You just do it," she explained. "You do it because you've got to get your focus, even if it is for only half an hour or 20 minutes."

In a release about the prize, Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, noted Ponsot’s distinctiveness as a contemporary poet: “T.S. Eliot once said that modern poets had lost the ability to think and feel at the same time. If only he could have read Marie Ponsot! Her poems are marvels of intellectual curiosity and acuity, and they will also break your heart.”

The Ruth Lily Poetry Prize will be awarded at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago on  June 10.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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