2019 Shelley Memorial Award
Carl R. Martin
Selected by Vanesha Pravin and Srikanth Reddy
In a literary era driven by the endless demand for media content, contemporary American poets would do well to take a page from Carl R. Martin's slim yet endlessly inventive playbooks. Over the past three decades, this remarkable poet has quietly issued three collections that expand the possibilities for thinking about lyric, race, and philosophy within the American idiom. Peopled by jellyfish, German Romantics, Civil War statuary, and a Keatonesque persona who "turns up / to witness his funeral in a borrowed black coat," ("Camus Camus"), Martin's world is open to all manner of beings in pursuit of Being.
First published in 1991 by the Bay Area fine books press Arion, Martin's debut collection Go Your Stations, Girl was hailed by John Ashbery for its musicality and sense of wonder: "it's unlike anything you've ever read and will take you to places you never knew existed." Nine years later, Dalkey Archive Press published Martin's follow-up, Genii Over Salzburg, a book that furthers the "footloose freedom / packed with notions" that animates this writer's ineffable sensibility ("Caspar David Friedrich"). More recently, Fence Books has published Rogue Hemlocks, the 2008 collection that introduced a new generation of poets to this writer's "glee in a philosophy / of interference between world and self" ("Swimming Objects").
It is an honor to recognize Carl R. Martin with the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award, established by the will of the late Mary P. Sears in 1929 to benefit a poet "selected with reference to his or her genius and need." Martin's genius is evident on every page. The need is on our part, as readers and writers, for more work of this brilliance, wit, and tenderness in the world.