Johns Hopkins Gazette | March 2, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 2, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 24
Allen Grossman Wins Bollingen Prize in American Poetry

Grossman, pre-retirement

By Amy Lunday

Allen Grossman, Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities in the Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, has been named the 2009 winner of Yale University's Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.

Established in 1949, the $100,000 prize is awarded biennially by the Yale University Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years, or for lifetime achievement in poetry. The award places Grossman in the company of renowned poets Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, E.E. Cummings, Louise Gluck and Adrienne Rich, and of Archibald MacLeish, Grossman's teacher at Harvard.

In choosing him, the three-judge panel described Grossman as "a profoundly original American poet whose work embraces the co-existence of comedy and tragedy, exploring the intersection of high poetic style and an often startling vernacular." The judges said his most recent book, Descartes' Loneliness (New Directions, December 2007), "is a bold and haunting late meditation, comparable to Thomas Hardy's masterpiece, Winter Words." The panel goes on to describe Grossman as "a distinguished teacher of poetics and literature, [who] has influenced three generations of American writers."

Upon receiving notification that he'd won, Grossman said, "I read it several times in astonishment. The Bollingen Prize is an exceptional honor — and the money that comes with it is a small compensation for getting old."

A fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Grossman has received many awards during his career, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985 and a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius grant," in 1989. But through the years, he said he's most proud of the teaching awards he received, including a Distinguished Faculty Award from his Johns Hopkins students in 1999.

"What I greatly liked to do was to teach great works in the tradition of The Iliad and The Odyssey," Grossman said. "I tended to win teaching awards, and that's the kind of recognition that made a difference to me. If there is anything I miss as a professor emeritus, it's being in the classroom."

Grossman joined the Department of English at Johns Hopkins in 1991. He began his teaching career in 1957 at Brandeis University, where he received his doctorate in 1960. His many collections of poetry include A Harlot's Hire (1959), The Woman on the Bridge Over the Chicago River (1979), The Bright Nails Scattered on the Ground (1986), The Ether Dome and Other Poems, New and Selected 1979-1991 (1991), How to Do Things With Tears (2001) and Sweet Youth (2002).

Since retiring from teaching in 2005, Grossman published Descartes' Loneliness, and in May the University of Chicago Press will be publishing True-Love: Essays on Poetry and Valuing, which Grossman says will be his "farewell text" and will include things he wrote while he was at Johns Hopkins.

"The English Department is thrilled to see Professor Grossman receive this great honor," said department chair Amanda Anderson, the Caroline Donovan Professor in English Literature. "In his years at Johns Hopkins, he stood out as an exceptionally charismatic and humane teacher."


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