Wesleyan University Press is pleased to announce that Ed Roberson has been elected to the Academy of American Poets’ prestigious Board of Chancellors. According to the Academy, this position entails a six-year term of collaboration with the Academy, consultation on major prizes and awards for American poets, and advocacy for poetry worldwide With three other new inductees, Roberson joins an esteemed cadre of literary stewardship.
Roberson’s poetry is political, lyrical, and urgent, focusing on nature, race, interconnectedness, history, spirituality, and music. His work is influenced by a myriad of forces, from jazz to limnology, and his poems speak to this intertwining of so many facets of human and nonhuman life. To See the Earth Before the End of the World (2010) and Asked What Has Changed (2021), two poetry collections published by Wesleyan University Press, tackle politics, environmental crises, war, and the question of human and nonhuman survival in a complex modern world. Roberson cites influences from poets spanning subject and decade, including Frank O’Hara, Ishmael Reed, Lucille Clifton, and Sonia Sanchez, categorizing their works and others into “clusters” of influence, which align with the foundational focuses of Roberson’s work:
The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, vol. 64, Spring-Summer 2023, p. 14.
“The first cluster: Abstraction balancing the specific, the local.
The second: The formal virtuoso recording, which plays against the creative, improvisational jazz of the moment.
And the third: The fleshy, embodied person of the poem speaking to the historical witness, the court of history, of time.”
Roberson’s influences and poetic style have been cultivated over decades of life-long dedication and learning. A student of painting in his youth and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, as well as an extensive traveler, Roberson’s expertise and immersion in so many fields, cultures, art forms, and spheres of the world informs his work and provides innovative, powerful perspectives on our planet and ourselves.
Academy Chancellor Nikky Finney describes Ed Roberson’s poetry as “needed” and says of him, “He battles our historical and modern-day blindness by delicately moving our fingers to the face of the planet. His words ask us to feel what is there.” Roberson has been praised as a “precious practitioner of life,” a “visionary of luminous detail, of histories,” and a “jazz-like innovator.” Over the course of his five-decade literary career, Roberson has received the 2020 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, the 2008 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the 2017 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, among many other honors.
Roberson’s induction is a prominent addition to his illustrious career, one that holds poetry and the lyrical voice up as a uniting and lifesaving force in a time of upheaval and crisis, in a time in which the dissenting voice is silenced. As Roberson says, “Nothing in language—nothing except something like poetry—could do such work as poetry does… There has to be poetry” (Journal of the Academy of American Poets, vol. 64).