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Announcing the 2021 Shelley Memorial Award winner, Arthur Sze

May 31, 2021

Arthur Sze has been named the winner of the 2021 Shelley Memorial Award. Established by the will of Mary P. Sears in 1930, The Shelley Memorial Award recognizes poetic genius and is bestowed upon one distinguished American poet each year.

Sze was selected by Ben Olguín and Vijay Seshadri.


Judges Citation

The nets of awareness Arthur Sze casts across the world are large and light and buoyant. Their mesh is fine, but they also have tremendous flexibility and tensile strength and can stretch and stretch and stretch and stretch. They gather in assemblages of reality astonishingly various in kind and size. In Sze’s poems, multitudes of oppositions—between a spare and a baroque sensibility, between minute particulars and large general truths, between the experimental and the perennial, between concretion and abstraction, between image and sound, between the quotidian and the eternal—are composed and reconciled through a subtle, ever-present, ever-active interweaving of perception, apperception, and piercing insight:


You only spot the rabbit’s ears and tail:

when it moves, you locate it against the speckled gravel,
but when it stops it blends in again;

               the world of being is like this gravel:

                              you think you own a car, a house,
                              this blue-zigzagged shirt, but you just borrow these things.

                                                                        (“First Snow,” from Sight Lines)


The Poetry Society of America is proud to honor him with the 2021 Shelley Memorial Award. Arthur Sze was born in New York in 1950. He has published eleven books of poetry, the first when he was twenty-two and the latest in 2021. Sze has received innumerable accolades and awards, and is recognized as a master of his craft. Sze’s vision of American poetry is expansive. He is in dialogue with a wide range of poetic traditions, from the Chinese to Native American oral traditions to Southern Cone poets such as Pablo Neruda, and is a paragon of late-twentieth and twenty-first century poetics.



Arthur Sze is a poet, translator, and editor. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, including The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2021); Sight Lines (2019), for which he received the National Book Award; Compass Rose (2014), a Pulitzer Prize finalist; The Ginkgo Light (2009), selected for the PEN Southwest Book Award and the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Book Award; Quipu (2005); The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970–1998 (1998), selected for the Balcones Poetry Prize and the Asian American Literary Award; and Archipelago (1995), selected for an American Book Award. He has also published one book of Chinese poetry translations, The Silk Dragon (2001), selected for the Western States Book Award, and edited Chinese Writers on Writing (2010). A recipient of the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, a Lannan Literary Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, as well as five grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, Sze was the first poet laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico. From 2012 to 2017, he was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and in 2017, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His poems have been translated into over a dozen languages, including Chinese, Dutch, German, Korean, and Spanish. He is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts.


Author photo by Mariana Cook.