Gustavus Adolphus College alumnus and current Visiting Assistant Professor of English Matt Rasmussen ’98 has been named the winner of the 2012 Walt Whitman Award by the Academy of American Poets. The award is given out annually to an American poet who has yet to publish a book of poetry and is one of the most prestigious first book prizes in the country. Poet Jane Hirshfield was the judge who selected Rasmussen’s manuscript Black Aperture as this year’s winner.
By receiving the award, Rasmussen will receive a $5,000 cash prize, a one-month residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and will have his book of poems Black Aperture published by Louisiana State University Press.
“I am extremely honored to receive this award and feel very fortunate to have had my manuscript chosen by Jane Hirshfield. I would like to thank, in particular, Joyce Sutphen and Phil Bryant who are currently my colleagues but were my professors when I attended Gustavus,” Rasmussen said. “They’ve always supported my work and encouraged me to attend graduate school for writing. If it weren’t for them, I would not be a poet. The entire English Department and Gustavus community, both current and past, have been incredibly encouraging and I owe much of my success to all of the wonderful teachers I’ve had at every level of my education.”
Rasmussen is the past recipient of grants and fellowships from the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Corporation of Yaddo, the Loft Literary Center, the Jerome Foundation, Intermedia Arts, the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minn., and the McKnight Foundation. He is the author of a chapbook titled Fingergun, and is the co-founder of the independent poetry press Birds, LLC. His poems have been published in several journals including Gulf Coast, Dislocate, and Water-Stone Review. Rasmussen teaches literature and creative writing courses at Gustavus.
The Walt Whitman Award was established in 1975 to encourage the work of emerging poets and to enable the publication of a poet’s first book. A distinguished poet serves as the judge for each year’s contest. Hirshfield wrote this about Rasmussen’s book:
“Black Aperture addresses, with meticulous balance, a single event from multiple directions. Autobiographical, speculative, imaginal, at times bitterly comic, often lyrically surreal, Matt Rasmussen’s transformative poems look outward—they are built on the observable leaf, field, hand, bird, and act. But this book’s central task is the alchemizing of experience by language: the subject here is the suicide of a brother. What cannot be altered remains; yet by changing saying, seeing is also made wider, more openly porous. The liberations of tongue, word, and conception held in these poems restore the possibility-sense that’s as essential to us as oxygen, when a person stands in the chambers of unacceptable loss.”
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