March 26, 2003

Fulton '83 Wins National Poetry Prize

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Last week, Prof. Alice Fulton ’83, English, accepted the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, the mother of all poetry prizes, for her most recent book of poems, Felt.

The $10,000 prize, the only national prize for poetry, is given biennially to the most notable book of American poetry of the preceding two years.

“This award is particularly nice and encouraging because it is given for one particular work,” Fulton said.

The panel of three judges, all distinguished poets themselves, read every book of poetry written in 2001 and 2002 before bestowing the honor on Fulton’s book. The panel described her work as “blessed with the kind of direct wiring between sensation and language, feeling and form, that strikes first with physical and then with intellectual and emotional wallop.”

Fulton adds the prize to an already extensive list of accomplishments and accolades for her poetry including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship and several awards from the Poetry Society of America.

“Every award makes things easier for a while. It’s extremely encouraging,” Fulton said.

She pointed out that most, if not all artists go through long periods of discouragement, which she likes to refer to as “dancing with weights.”

“When an artist receives recognition, it’s as if the ankle weights have been taken off,” she said.

However, the high of success is only temporary.

“Ultimately, you have to be obstinate and committed to the art,” Fulton remarked.

Fulton graduated from the Cornell’s MFA program in 1983. She credits much of her success to the creative and encouraging atmosphere Cornell’s program fostered.

“I was surrounded by other poets and writers. They were very honest about what the world of poetry entailed and helped with the poems themselves,” she said.

Upon leaving the sacred slope, Fulton taught creative writing at the University of Michigan for 19 years. In 2002 she returned to Cornell as a faculty member.

“It’s wonderful to be back,” Fulton said.

She praised the university culture found here, which is “at once relaxed and tolerant of different opinions but also retains an intellectual rigor.”

“The students are engaged and fun,” she added.

Fulton believes that poetry is imperative to today’s society, especially in the current social and political debates.

“I believe that poetry should be a means of changing the world,” she said.

Although current events are dealt with differently by each poet, Fulton acknowledges that such issues influence her own work.

“I consider myself a poet of conscience. Political matters naturally seep into my poetry and infiltrate it,” Fulton said.

Her creative process varies from work to work.

“It has changed over time. When I was younger, poems were written quickly. Recently, it can be a pretty slow process,” she said.

Particular poems in Felt took up to six months or a year to complete.

“I wrote the poems fairly slowly, went to workshops, and undertook major revisions. Sometimes I would have to leave it alone for months and come back to it until the poem satisfied me,” Fulton remarked.

Not that she was sitting on her hands until inspiration struck. In addition to poetry, Fulton also writes essays and fiction. She is currently working on a book of short fiction and is set to begin a non-fiction project in the near future.

Archived article by Emily Sketch