From 1968 – 2008, the triennial prize has been awarded in the amount of $3,000.  In 2011, the SVSU Board of Fellows became the sponsor of the prize and elevated the award to $10,000.

The Board of Fellows was established in 1966 as an advisory group to the president of SVSU.  Members are appointed to staggered four-year terms and represent a wide range of professions and communities across the Great Lakes Bay Region.

The Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize has been offered since 1968, generally on a triennial basis. The Prize is given for a book published in the previous three years which has made an important contribution to American poetry. Three active poets of high reputation are named as judges, usually chosen by the US Poet Laureate/Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. No nominations are solicited or accepted.

Previous winners:

  • Robert Pinsky (2008, for Gulf Music)
  • Carl Phillips (2005, for The Rest of Love)
  • Sherod Santos (2002, for The Pilot Star Elegies)
  • Frank Bidart (1998, for Desire)
  • Kimiko Hahn (1995, for Earshot)
  • Carolyn Kizer (1988, for The Nearness of You)
  • Richard Hugo (1976, for What Thou Lovest Well, Remains American)
  • John Ciardi (1986, for The Birds of Pompeii)
  • Donald Finkel (1974, for Adequate Earth)
  • Robert Penn Warren (1971, for Incarnations: Poems, 1966-1968)
  • Howard Nemerov (1968, for The Blue Swallows)


This award is intended to encourage and foster work by poets of U.S. citizenship.  The prize is given to the author of an individual book of poems published in a specific period of three calendar years.  This year’s prize covers 2008, 2009, 2010.

The recipient must be a living American poet.  The prize is awarded without regard to number of publications, age, gender, place of residence, style or type of poetry, or choice of subject matter and is not for total achievement, but for an individual book.  Consequently, there are no limitations on the number of times any particular poet may receive the prize.  The award recipient is selected by a panel of judges, normally chosen by the Poet Laureate, Consultant on Poetry to the Library of Congress.  The judges are poets who are recognized as literary persons of high standing and have no work of their own under consideration for the prize during the term of their office.  Furthermore, no person judges more than twice and, whenever feasible, three new judges are appointed every three years.

The only suggestion the Board offers is that the judges remember Theodore Roethke’s own capacity to admire work of poets who worked in styles and with subject matters far removed from those of his own choice.


2011 Winner

David Baker
( biography )