Justin Sherwood has won the second annual Paul Violi Prize in Poetry for a selection of original poems entitled “Abeyance.” Honorable mention goes to Lenea Grace (“National Canvas”) and Alissa Fleck (“Meditations on Salt”). Formal announcement will be made at graduation.
The prize is named after Paul Violi, who taught in the New School Writing Program from 2003 until his sudden death in April 2011. Paul excelled as a mentor and inspired our students as much by his example as by his presence. The students loved him and it was reciprocal. "Simply walking in the door made me a happy man," he said more than once.
Awash in the love of Paul that was matched only by the shock and dismay at his untimely passing (he was sixty-six), Paul’s friends decided to raise funds for an annual poetry prize to be given in his honor. The response of donors was immediate and generous, and funding for the Paul Violi Prize in Poetry, consisting of a cash award of $500, is secure for many years to come.
All second-year students in our program are eligible to apply with a group of five of their best poems. To assure fairness, the contest is judged by distinguished poets not affiliated with the New School. Alex Crowley won the 2011 award, announced in September of 2011 and celebrated at the memorial tribute to Paul Violi that took place at the New School on December 2, 2011, to an overflow crowd. On that occasion, each of thirty-one writers – including major literary stars (such as Paul Auster, Billy Collins, Ron Padgett) as well as New School Writing Program students and alums – read one of Paul’s poems. Professor David Lehman, poetry coordinator of the New School Writing Program, organized and moderated the event, along with Robert Polito, director of The New School Writing Program, who delivered remarks in Paul’s memory. Before the intermission Lehman surveyed the audience and quoted Yeats: “Think where a man’s glory most begins and ends / And say my glory was I had such friends.”
“Paul's inventiveness was astounding,” Lehman said. “He liked not only writing poems but creating forms, or claiming for poetry forms and structures in use in civilian life. So he has poems in the form of TV Guide listings, the index to a nonexistent book, potted biographies for a midterm examination or quiz show, a radio pitchman's patter, the dialogue between a delicatessen counterman and a customer, and the acknowledgments page of a poetry collection. One such effort would spawn another. He writes an ‘Acknowledgments’ indicating the name of the journals in which Samuel Taylor Coleridge's actual poems might appear – ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ in ‘Modern Bride,’ for example, and ‘Work without Hope’ in ‘Popular Mechanics.’ And this splendid conceit gives rise to a second poem entitled ‘Acknowledgments,’ only this one is populated with purely notional poems written by a mad grammarian: ‘Elegy for the Split Infinitive,’ ‘Poem Contaminated by Prepositions.’”
In his remarks at the Violi memorial tribute, Robert Polito said: “Paul’s poems possessed a dynamic internal architecture, and casually carried a lot of history inside them – one element of his energetic design looping back to the conceptual wit of British metaphysical poets like Marvell, Herbert and Donne; another element summoning and reinventing the vivid American, even hardboiled vernaculars of Damon Runyon, Dashiell Hammett, and Mark Twain; another element recasting the fluency, volatility, and forthrightness of the Coleridge conversation poems he loved and taught; and still another element, maybe more elusive but no less crucial, that absorbed into poetry the deadpan strategies of Duchamp, Rauschenberg, and Johns.”
“Paul had a genuine and deep reserve of intellectual curiosity,” Lehman said. “He seemed immune from the kinds of resentment and bitterness that afflict so many poets who have not received as much recognition as they deserve. We are proud to honor his name and his legacy.”