Gary Snyder Wins 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize!

Kudos to my managing editor Alice Pope for sending along the following press release from the Poetry Foundation:

CHICAGO — Poet Gary Snyder is the winner of the 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Established in 1986 and presented annually by the Poetry Foundation, the award is one of the most prestigious given to American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the nation’s largest literary awards. Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the selection committee, made the announcement today. The prize will be presented at an evening ceremony at the Arts Club of Chicago on Thursday, May 29.

In announcing the award, Wiman said: “Gary Snyder is in essence a contemporary devotional poet, though he is not devoted to any one god or way of being so much as to Being itself. His poetry is a testament to the sacredness of the natural world and our relation to it, and a prophecy of what we stand to lose if we forget that relation.”

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder began writing in the 1950s as a member—with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac—of the Beat movement. For most of the 1960s he lived in Japan and studied formally in a Zen monastery. Blending physical reality—precise observations of nature—with insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism, Snyder has explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose.

The judges issued the following statement in making the selection: “Gary Snyder is a true nature poet: there’s no sentimentalism to his work, and he never uses the natural world simply to celebrate his own sensibility. A deeply learned and meditative artist, an impassioned ecologist, and a poet of great scope as well as intense focus, Snyder has written poems that we will be reading for as long as we’ve been reading Robert Frost.”

“The selection of Gary Snyder as this year’s winner of the Lilly Prize does honor to the tradition of excellence and importance that the prize has stood for since it was established over 20 years ago,” said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation.

Snyder is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, and translations. His poetry collections include Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, The Back Country, Regarding Wave, No Nature, Mountains and Rivers Without End, and Danger on Peaks. His essays are collected in Earth House Hold, The Real Work, A Place in Space, and Back on the Fire.

A committed environmental activist who has received the John Hay Award for Nature Writing, Snyder has also been recognized for his contributions to the theory and practice of Buddhism. His many honors include the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for Turtle Island, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Bollingen Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Prize from Poetry, the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Times, and the Shelley Memorial Award.

Snyder was born on May 8, 1930, in San Francisco. He is professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Davis, and lives in northern California.

Judges for the 2008 prize were poets Eavan Boland, Sandra M. Gilbert, and Christian Wiman.


The Rabbit
A grizzled black-eyed rabbit showed me

   irrigation ditches, open paved highway,
            white line
   to the hill.
   bell chill blue jewel sky
Banner clouds flying,
The mountains all gathered,
   juniper trees on the flanks
            cone buds,
      the snug bark scale
         in thin powder snow
      over rock scrabble, pricklers, boulders,
   pines and junipers,
The trees all singing.

The mountains are singing
To gather the sky and the mist
      to bring it down snow-breath
      and gather it water
Sent from the singing peaks
      flanks and folds
Down arroyos and ditches by highways the water
The people to use it, the
      mountains and juniper
Do it for men,

Said the rabbit.

First published in Poetry, March 1968. © Gary Snyder


About the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
American poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly. Over many years and in many ways, it has been blessed by her personal generosity. In 1985 she endowed the Ruth Lilly Professorship in Poetry at Indiana University. In 1989 she created Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships, for $15,000 each, given annually by the Poetry Foundation to undergraduate or graduate students selected through a national competition. In 2002 her lifetime engagement with poetry culminated in a magnificent bequest that will enable the Poetry Foundation to promote, in perpetuity, a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.

The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. Established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly, the annual prize is sponsored and administered by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. Over the last 20 years, the Lilly Prize has awarded more than $1,000,000. The previous recipients are Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, Anthony Hecht, Mona Van Duyn, Hayden Carruth, David Wagoner, John Ashbery, Charles Wright, Donald Hall, A.R. Ammons, Gerald Stern, William Matthews, W.S. Merwin, Maxine Kumin, Carl Dennis, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lisel Mueller, Linda Pastan, Kay Ryan, C.K. Williams, Richard Wilbur, and Lucille Clifton.

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5 thoughts on “Gary Snyder Wins 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize!

  1. Bruce Niedt

    Snyder was one of my favorite poets from my… ahem, hip-pie college days – wonderful spiritual and naturalist themes throughout his work. I’m happy they’ve recognized his lifetime of achievement.

  2. Jeanette J McAdoo


    Every morning I get my start,
    Through exercise for energy.
    Makes me feel great and like I’m a part,
    Of the world for all to see.

    When people notice I feel great,
    About the way I look and how I feel.
    The work was well worth it I’m back in an eight,
    I finally found my sex appeal.