Travis Mossotti Named 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Winner
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Travis Mossotti has won the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize for his collection Narcissus Americana. Two finalists were also named: Roy Bentley, for his collection Walking with Eve in the Loved City, and P. Scott Cunningham for his collection Ya Te Veo. The winner and finalists are selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. The University of Arkansas Press will publish all three books, and Mossotti will receive a $5,000 cash prize in addition to publication.
The prize and series are named in honor of Miller Williams, an acclaimed poet, founding director of The University of Arkansas Press and a long-time professor in the University creative writing department. In 1988 the press published Billy Collins’s debut collection, The Apple that Astonished Paris.
Travis Mossotti is the author of two previous collections, About the Dead and Field Study. His poems have appeared in the Antioch Review, Moon City Review, and Rattle. He teaches at Webster University and works for Washington University in the office of the vice chancellor for research. Narcissus Americana, he says, “lays claim to America, with all of its prideful trappings, and the poems sing and scrap and wrestle their way across the country’s landscapes, lives and places trying to get at the heart of the idea of westward expansion in a country that has ceased to expand.” Collins said that “what often lures us into poems and keeps our interest is the poet’s sensibility, that intangible element that arises from poet’s tone, his or her verbal personality. That is what hooked me when I began to read Narcissus Americana.”
Roy Bentley is the author of four previous books, Boy in a Boat, Any One Man, The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana, and Starlight Taxi, which won the 2012 Blue Lynx Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the NEA, six Ohio Arts Council fellowships, and a Florida Division of Cultural Affairs fellowship. His poems have appeared in the Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Blackbird, RATTLE, and elsewhere. Bentley calls his new collection “a funny, pissed-off book. It’s an America of hopeless folks putting a shoulder to the stone and starting to roll it up the nearest hill for something to do.” This, Collins said, “is a lively, collection that instructs, delights, and uplifts.”
P. Scott Cunningham’s poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Harvard Review, The Awl, POETRY, A Public Space, Los Angeles Review of Books, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Guardian, among others. He is the director of O, Miami and the editor of Jai-Alai Books. Ya Te Veo, Cunningham’s first collection, is named after a mythical tree that eats people. “The poems use the personas of a range of well-known figures as the basis for meditations on love, friendship, and anxiety,” Cunningham said. Collins was impressed by Cunningham’s ability to weave together skill, musical structure, and order in his poetry, calling Ya Te Veo “a distinctive collection by a very savvy poet.”
The three books will be launched at the Association of Writers and Writer’s Programs meeting in Tampa, Florida in March 2018.
In his series editor’s preface for the 2018 books, Billy Collins praised the guidance he received from Williams, who passed away in 2015: “Miller Williams was more than my first editor. Over the years, he and I became friends, but even more importantly, before my involvement with the press, he served as a kind of literary father to me. His straightforward, sometimes folksy, sometimes witty and always trenchant poems became to me models of how poems could sound and how they could go. He was one of the poets who showed me that humor could be a legitimate mode in poetry—that a poem could be humorous without being silly or merely comical. He also showed me that a plain-spoken poem did not have to be imaginatively plain. Younger poets today could learn much from his example, as I did.”
In judging this year’s contest, Collins said he looked “for poems that Miller would delight in reading” and found “three very different poets, who have readability, freshness of language, and seriousness of intent in common.”
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