Announcing the 2020 William Carlos Williams Award winner, Martha Collins

May 07, 2020

Martha Collins is the 2020 recipient of the Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Award for her book Because What Else Could I Do (University of Pittsburgh Press).

The William Carlos Williams Award is for a book of poetry published by a small, non-profit, or university press. 

The judge was Alice Fulton.

Alice Fulton's Citation:

Throughout her distinguished career, Martha Collins has devised a poetics of justice and revelation. Her singular aesthetic reaches its apogee in this sequence that witnesses personal devastation and testifies to the terrifying forces of love and grief. William Carlos Williams asked poets to write “a new kind of measure,” “the poem as a field of action,” and Collins’s innovative work answers the challenge. A life-altering tragedy is enacted in a prosody built from silence and fractured language. Radical loss decimates lines that stumble and stutter in resonant spasms. The “story”— and its emotional backlash—levitate from the fissures of a flayed syntax.

Williams also advised poets to “listen to the language for the discoveries we hope to make.” But Collins must listen to discoveries she never hoped to make. Because what else could she do? The pathos of that desperate question transfigures these minimalist poems that testify to the excruciations of shame, the malevolence of scams, the sadness of delusional disorders, the helplessness of guilt and mourning. The linguistic surface is planed; the rhetoric free of pedantry or archness. Negative space vibrates with contained emotion, and it is especially moving to feel such intensity emerge from a purposefully limited palette. I could not stop reading.

Martha Collins’ tenth book of poetry, Because What Else Could I Do, was published in the Pitt Poetry Series in early fall 2019. Her previous books include two volumes of linked sequences, Night Unto Night and Day Unto Day (Milkweed, 2018 & 2014), and three works that focus on race and racism: Admit One: An American Scrapbook (Pittsburgh, 2016), White Papers (Pittsburgh, 2012), and Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006).

An active translator, Collins has also published four volumes of co-translations from the Vietnamese and co-edited, with Kevin Prufer, Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries (Graywolf, 2017). She also co-edited (with Prufer and Martin Rock) Catherine Breese Davis: On the Life & Work of an American Master (2015), and a volume of essays on the poet Jane Cooper (Michigan, 2019, with Celia Bland).