Poet Alice Notley is the winner of the 2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement, the Poetry Foundation announced Wednesday. With an award of $100,000, the prize is among the most lucrative in literature.
Notley, who now lives in Paris, was born in Arizona and raised in Needles, Calif. She attended Barnard College in New York and earned her master’s of fine arts from the Iowa Writers workshop but eschewed academia as a career path. She has published more than 30 books, beginning in 1971 with “165 Meeting House Lane” and continuing with two new volumes due this year, “Certain Magical Acts” and “Benediction.”
Speaking to the Poetry Foundation about her work, Notley explained, “I invented a voice for myself when there had scarcely been any female poets, and then a voice for myself as a young mother. I allowed my children’s voices in, and then the voices of all my friends, the people on the street, anyone, really, who hadn’t been in the poem before was welcome, to the extent I could hear them. I knew I couldn’t hear everyone, but I tried. By the time I wrote ‘The Descent of Alette’ I was creating voices for the homeless and oppressed as I encountered them, for my dead brother who had suffered from PTSD, for anyone I felt needed representation in poetry. I feel that poetry is, and is for, everyone.”
Notley was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1999 for her poetry collection “Mysteries of Small Houses,” which the judges wrote was “an extraordinary accomplishment ... powerful, deeply compelling ... both intimate and historical ... fearless and innovative. She is truly an American original.”
Her approach to her work has evolved over time, she said. After her husband fell ill and passed away, and she herself suffered a serious illness, she thought about voice differently. “I began to feel very empty at this point, but that seems to mean that you become full of some other kind of spirit. I stopped feeling like Alice Notley,” she explains. "... We are the folk. I don’t mind thinking of myself as one of the folk or as a soul. I’m working on something now that is meant to be collagelike, but in the sense that everyone, all the dead and live, will say what they would like to paste onto it. This is the new universe. We have come around again to a point of reinvention, re-creation of it, all of it.”
Notley will be presented with the award at a ceremony in Chicago on June 8.
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