By Frederick H. Lowe
Ed Roberson, a Chicago-based poet, who experiments with what others call double-jointed syntax to explain the connection between history, race and culture, has been awarded this year’s $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, an annual award that honors a living U.S. poet for outstanding lifetime achievement.
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, announced on Wednesday Roberson had been named winner of the 2016 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The Foundation also announced that it had awarded the annual Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism to The Poems of T.S. Eliot: The Annotated Text. Volumes 1&2
Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, announced that Roberson had won the Lilly prize.
“In both language and life (his studies have taken him to Alaska, South America, Africa and Bermuda) Ed Roberson is an explorer, ” Share said. “Working in a healthy remove from the precincts of professional critics and tastemakers, but admired deeply by them, Roberson’s ten books of poetry take readers, as they have taken the poet himself, to every corner of the vivid labyrinth of life.”
Henry Bienen, president of the Poetry Foundation, which is based in Chicago, said the award acknowledges Roberson’s courage in breaking with literary traditions and his contribution to poetry throughout his distinguished career.
Words and phrases in Roberson’s experimental poetry actively resist parsing, using instead what fellow poet Nathaniel Mackey has called “double-jointed syntax” to explore and bend themes of race, history and culture.
I’m not creating a new language. I’m just trying to un-White-Out the one we’ve got,” Roberson said in a 2006 interview with Chicago Postmodern Poetry.
The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize is one of many honors Roberson has won over the years for his work, although it might be the wealthiest. He has won the Lila Wallace Writers Award and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.
Roberson, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, has taught at the University of Chicago and Columbia College. Since 2007, he has been a visiting writer and artist in residence at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies.
A portfolio of Roberson’s new poems will appear in Poetry magazine later this year.