2012 Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
W.S. Di Piero
W.S. Di Piero was born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and
earned degrees from St. Joseph’s College and San Francisco State
College. A poet, essayist, art critic, and translator, Di Piero has
taught at institutions such as Northwestern University, Louisiana State
University, and Stanford, where he is professor emeritus of English and
on faculty in the prestigious Stegner Poetry Workshop. Elected to the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001, Di Piero was awarded the
Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2012.
Di Piero’s poetry is known for its gritty realism. Populated with characters and settings reminiscent of the South Philadelphia neighborhood of his boyhood and the Italian-American working-class families he grew up with, Di Piero’s poetry frequently makes use of colloquial language and diction—what poet Philip Levine described as “our American voices in all their glory and banality.” Using everyday objects as well as speech to create both rhythm and image, Di Piero’s style is “jittery,” according to Publisher’s Weekly, able to evoke “intensity and… atmosphere within the space of a single line.” Di Piero’s numerous collections of poetry include Country of Survivors (1974), The First Hour (1982), The Dog Star (1990), Skirts and Slacks (2001), Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems (2007), and Nitro Nights (2011).
But Di Piero’s poetry doesn’t just treat urban landscapes; he also takes inspiration from works of art, including the art of Italian masters such as Caravaggio, Carpaccio, and Lippi. Di Piero’s interest in visual art has led him to art criticism, and he is a regular art reviewer for the San Diego Reader. Di Piero has published a number of volumes of essays on literary and visual art, including Memory and Enthusiasm (1989), Out of Eden: Essays on Modern Art (1991), Shooting the Works: On Poetry and Pictures (1996), a collection of memoirs, essays, notes, and art criticism, City Dog (2009), and When Can I See You Again: New Art Writings (2010).
An award-winning translator of Italian poetry, Di Piero’s first translation, Giacomo Leopardi's Pensieri (1981), was nominated for a National Book Award. Other translations include Sandro Penna's This Strange Joy (1982), which received the Academy of American Poets Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Award, Leonardo Sinisgalli's The Ellipse (1982) and Night of Shooting Stars (2011), and a translation of Euripides’s Ion (1996). Speaking to John Rodden about translation, Di Piero noted: “Translation assists you in arriving at recognitions. As a translator, you feel your way through to some of the same recognitions that the poet originally had and that shaped the poem. For me, this sense of pursuing recognitions—of waiting for recognitions to arrive—is what poetry and translation are about. So the process of translation has helped me immensely in that way: not as a question of language, but rather as a quest for recognitions.”
W.S. Di Piero has won numerous honors and awards for his work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. He lives in San Francisco.
photo and text from poetryfoundation.org, publishers of Poetry magazine