Announcing the 2020 Shelley Memorial Award winner, Rick Barot

May 07, 2020

Rick Barot is the 2020 recipient of the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award.

The Shelley Award is given by nomination only, to a poet selected with reference to his or her genius. He was selected by Katie Ford and Graham Foust.

The Judges' Citation:

​Rick Barot’s constancy as a poet of great patience—awaiting the world’s own speaking—makes his writing decidedly rare and rewarding. Over the course of his four books, most recently, The Galleons, Barot has earned a readership who can likely say that they read him because they trust him, believing that with each poem an arrival, or an openness, or a succumbing to true limits will befall them; that, at least, has been the experience of these two judges.

“Reading Plato,” the first poem of Barot’s first book, The Darker Fall, begins with the word “I” and ends with the word “them,” making it a prescient figure for his work thus far, an oeuvre that deftly propels the singular toward the communal, the intimacy of the thinker toward the warmth of the collective, the familial, or the beloved. Each poem is crafted with a miniaturist’s nimble hand—never a hand of force or pressure, but a hand that humbly finds the materials’ hidden alchemy. These materials, too, are often just traces: humanity leaves so many marks upon the world—hearts knifed into bus windows, initials scratched into the plastic partitions in taxis—and Barot wants to read them with us, which means that traces, though often left by strangers, give him hope.

As the title of "Ode with Interruptions" suggests, Barot is a praise poet by way of honest reckoning; The Galleons ends its sweeping reach with this concession:

     I used to think that to write poems, to make art,
     meant trying to transcend the prosaic elements

     of the self, to arrive at some essential plane, where
     poems were supposed to succeed. I was wrong.

Not merely an admission of error, these lines are a summons toward the poems we trust Rick Barot has yet to write.​

Rick Barot was born in the Philippines, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and attended Wesleyan University and The Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.

He has published three books of poetry with Sarabande Books: The Darker Fall (2002), which received the Kathryn A. Morton Prize; Want (2008), which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and won the 2009 Grub Street Book Prize; and Chord (2015), which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and received the 2016 UNT Rilke Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, and the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Artist Trust of Washington, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace E. Stegner Fellow and a Jones Lecturer in Poetry.

Barot is the poetry editor of New England Review. He lives in Tacoma, Washington and teaches at Pacific Lutheran University. He is also the director of The Rainier Writing Workshop, the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at PLU. His fourth book of poems, The Galleons, was published by Milkweed Editions in February 2020.