Sewanee Review honors Vievee Francis with 2021 Aiken Taylor Award


Meridith Frazée
Contributing writer

Each year, the Sewanee Review’s Aiken Taylor Award highlights recognized talent in modern American poetry. Vievee Francis, currently a professor at Dartmouth, is the latest addition to a line of awardees that includes such figures as Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins and WS Merwin. On October 13, she read her work to an enthusiastic audience which included students, professors, Sewanee review staff and administrators, and filled all available seats in the convocation room. Another distinguished poet, Philip B. Williams, had given a lecture on Francis’ poetry the previous afternoon.

In his introduction to François, Sewanee review Editor-in-chief Adam Ross has dubbed her “that rare poet who combines generous ability with stunning, down-to-earth precision.” He went on to say that “any argument [Francis] done in his poetry is imbued with a combination of determination and love, or a determination to love. Vice Chancellor Reuben Brigety also spoke briefly about the insight of the poems on the beauty and pain of American life, and said a few words about the history and purpose of the award.

The Aiken Taylor Prize was founded by KPA Taylor, himself a poet and physician. His highly literary family included writers such as Joan Aiken and Conrad Aiken, his older brother, in whose honor the award was created. Before the award was presented to Vievee Francis, Taylor’s poem “Prayer” was read aloud. The articlePoetry editor Eric Smith commented that the award “is one of many opportunities we have to call attention to a singularly talented poet, whose gifts have changed the way we, in as editors, let’s read and think about what a poem can do. ”He added that the intention of this public recognition is, in large part, to encourage others to seek the gift of“ full conversation. hopeful and fruitful “with Francis and his work, which” has been excellent company during a trying year, both a challenge and a balm.

Let us then move on to the poems which provoked this “admiration” and this “gratitude”: Francis opened with “Takeing It”, from his recent collection The primitive forest. “Is it too dramatic? ” she read. “Find another story. Find a lie. She continued in a series of works both published and (it seems for some poems) unavailable in print, knitting varied and beautiful images into stories of loss, family and landscape. The attentive and unyielding gaze of her writing, which sees the sweetness in Hamtramck blood soup and never misses what is harsh or hurtful for what is pretty, or vice versa, has been deepened by the rhythm and timbre of her reading voice. Francis ‘poems are often intensely personal, both intimate and character-driven, whether the work derives directly from Francis’ own life or that of Zachary Taylor, or Marvin Gaye. The latter, which concerned the relationship between Gaye and the father who had fatally shot him, was heartbreaking when Francois read it; the poem ended in a subtle and surprising twist that again touched the reader, as if it had always been a conversation, and still possible to focus the vision on something as strong and tender as that of Francis .

“There is no doubt in my mind” Sewanee review editorial assistant Luke Gair (C’21) says: [Francis] has gained totemic status in the circuit of contemporary American letters. Indeed, and the emphasis placed by the Prize on poets “in the maturity of their career[s]Means that this recognition of the work of Francis, as well as the reading and the lecture that accompany it, are an invitation to what is already a body of great richness and wonder. Her acceptance of this honor will mark, for many of us, the beginning or continuation of a lasting relationship with her writing.

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