A widely published poet and scholar will receive the 12th triennial Saginaw Valley State University Board of Fellows Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize. A pair of judges appointed by the United States Poet Laureate selected David Baker for his 2009 poetry volume, “Never-Ending Birds.” He will receive the honor during a public ceremony at SVSU Tuesday, Nov. 15.
One of the judges, David Wagoner, is a former student of the late Roethke and wrote a play about his teacher, “First Class.” A highly accomplished poet himself, Wagoner expressed confidence that Baker’s work would meet with Roethke’s approval.
“Because he believed that sound, rhythm, and meaning were of nearly equal importance in the making of a poem,” Wagoner said, “I think Theodore Roethke would have been especially pleased that the prize in his name is being given to David Baker, whose beautiful and skillfully made book ‘Never-Ending Birds’ clearly demonstrates he believes so too.”
Baker is a professor of English and holds the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing at Denison University. He has written 10 books of poetry, and his poems and essays have appeared in more than 100 magazines, including American Poetry Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and the Yale Review. Baker also has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Society of America, among others.
Another judge, the award-winning poet Rosanna Warren, praised the sensory nature of Baker’s work.
“He understands the human story as part of a larger story of life on earth, but he never forces the analogy,” she said. “His rhythms are as alive to the roll and tang of syllables on the tongue as they are to the recurrences and interruptions of the circulation of blood and sap. His poems respond deeply to life, and enlarge our imaginative responses to it.”
Warren’s honors include the Pushcart Prize and the Award of Merit in Poetry, and she served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999 to 2005.
Named for the late Saginaw poet who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for “The Waking,” the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize has been awarded since 1968 to notable poets for a particular collection of poems published in a specific three-year period. Past winners include former U.S. Poet Laureates Robert Penn Warren (1971) – the father of Rosanna – and Robert Pinsky (2008).
The award includes a $10,000 cash prize, which SVSU’s Board of Fellows will present to Baker during a ceremony at SVSU Tuesday, Nov. 15. Baker will give a reading at 7 p.m. in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall, and sign copies of “Never-Ending Birds” following the event.
Baker’s talk will be part of a larger festival celebrating Roethke. For more information on the prize and associated events honoring Roethke, visit www.svsu.edu/roethke .