IU Bloomington professor Ross Gay has won the Kingley Tufts Poetry Award.
Oh, by the way, the award carries of $100,000 prize.
Now do I have your attention?
It’s a shame that a big-dollar figure is often necessary to bring attention to an artist, but such is the world. The award was created to honor mid-career poets, providing the means and encouragement to continue their work and here's hoping it does just that.
A read of Gay’s latest collection, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” (University of Pittsburgh Press), makes clear why he received the honor.
The collection opens with an improbably empowering encounter between poet and fig tree on a Philadelphia street corner (“there is a way/the fig tree grows/in groves it wants”) that grows into a beautiful, knowing celebration of humanity and continues with clear, crisp, often very moving choices.
With Gay, the simple act of buttoning a button is akin to “pushing the seed into the earth,” singing is a man “turning himself into air,” a tree being planted is held “straight as the flag/to the nation of simple joy,” and “loss makes all things/beautiful grow.”
It's often strongest when it borders on reporting, as in Gay's memorable appreciation of a 61-year-old in a pickup basketball game who “after flipping a reverse layup off a back door cut/from my no-look pass to steal the game/ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods/and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker’s scar/grinning across his chest.”
—In other poetry news, Butler University will be hosting the first Divedapper Poetry Carnival on May 14 with at least 20 poets reading…plus face painting, a dunk tank, food and parties. It’s rooted in Divedapper.com, a website launched by former Butler MFA student Kaveh Akbar.
—Speaking of Butler, the school’s ArtsFest lineup has been announced and will include performances by tenor Lawrence Brownlee, Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, Chicago’s long-running quick-sketch show“Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” the Afro-Caribbean group Tiempo Libre, and more. Events run April 7-17.
—On the theater front, The Phoenix has become the first theater in the country to snag the regional rights to the Broadway attention-getting “Hand to God,” a dark comedy about a puppet ministry. Watch for it in June.
—And Janis Siegel, from the Manhattan Transfer, will be among the mentors/judges at this years Great American Songbook High School Vocal Competition.