Top poetry prize for Tacoma Community College English instructor

Richard Wakefield, Tacoma Community College English and humanities instructor, is the recipient of the 2006 Richard Wilbur Poetry Award, one of the nation’s largest poetry prizes for formal verse.

More than 400 manuscripts were entered in the competition. Wakefied’s submission, East of Early Winters, was selected for the award by Timothy Steele, who is known as a critic, scholar and accomplished poet.

The award includes a $1,000 prize and publication of East of Early Winters, due out in October. The book will contain 50 poems in five parts: three sections with rural themes, and two about urban and contemporary life. A painting of Mount Hood by Wakefield’s grandfather will grace the book’s cover.

“I’m tickled about it,” Wakefield said of the honor.

Though he has written poems for a long time, Wakefield said he never had the urge to put a manuscript together. “As a book critic for the Seattle Times, I’ve seen a lot of unremarkable work. I lost my enthusiasm for publishing a book.”

At a friend’s prodding, he began to compile poems written over the last 15 years into East of Early Winters, and the timing coincided with the award’s submission period.

Wakefield began as a novelist, though poetry “seemed to be a way to express myself,” he said. “I like the sound – the music, if you will – of formal poetry. At one time I aspired to be a musician, but I wasn’t any good. Poetry fused my love of music and words.

“My poems have, more than most, an interplay of grammatical units,” Wakefield said. “If you look at the right-hand margins, interesting things happen at the ends of lines. I think judges and readers appreciate that.”

Wakefield believes poems appeal to readers’ need for a different pace. “A poem is special because it imposes its own pace that’s out of sync with the modern world,” he said. “The pace is more contemplative, and my themes fit that. I try to capture moments of drama or coherence in ordinary life. That’s how most people’s lives are. People respond to that.”

Wakefield teaches American Literature, The Bible as Literature, Children’s Literature and Composition at TCC, where he has been recognized with an Outstanding Teaching Award.

“There’s hardly any money in writing poetry, so creation had better be the satisfaction,” Wakefield said. “I have fun teaching and having a literary connection. Sometimes I can’t believe they pay me to talk about poetry.”

The Richard Wilbur Poetry Award is named for two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur. The competition is administered by the University of Evansville Press.