English professor receives national poetry award

Leah Green won the Walt Whitman Award, presented by the Academy of American Poets.


Photo courtesy of Leah Green

MacKenzie Van Meter

English professor Leah Green received the Walt Whitman Award for her first poetry collection, “More Extravagant Feast.”

Li-Young Lee, a renowned poet and recipient of a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, selected Green for this award.

“These poems remind us that when language is used to mediate between a soul’s inner contents and the outer world’s over-abundance of being and competing meanings,” Lee wrote in a press release, “it’s possible to both transcend the nihilism of word games, thereby discovering a more meaningful destiny for language, as well as reveal the body of splendor which is Existence.”

Green focuses on eco-writing in her work, which involves looking at literature through an ecological frame.

Presented by the American Academy of Poets, the award comes with $5,000 and a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center, an exclusive artist fellowship in Umbria, Italy.

But Green said that she writes, not in hopes of receiving an award, but because of the clarity that writing itself bring her.

“The deep, lasting ‘prize’ of this award is the moments and days of writing that it enables,” she said, “the capacity to open more widely into writing itself — into some of that clarity and light.”

Green said she’s grateful to the readers, including Lee, who connect with her work as well as Walt Whitman himself.

“There is no poet whose has been more real to my writing and teaching and life than Whitman,” she said. “That kind of electric pull I feel reading Whitman, the kind that comes when someone else has perceived the world as you have and has taken the time to name it, to feel it and to write it well… That is the great outward life of writing.”

Green said she teaches Whitman’s poetry in almost every one of her courses.

Her advice for aspiring writers? Just keep writing.

“Use writing to do the work you need to do in yourself and in the world,” Green said. “If your writing doesn’t bring fear and injury out to bathe them, if it doesn’t hurt and heal you, it won’t hurt and heal your reader.”

Green said she believes that necessity, honesty and attentiveness are crucial to her writing process. She spoke about finding what Michelangelo called the “shape within the marble” by chipping away at drafts of her poems.

“A lot of amazing work is being written right now out of a joy that can look at fear and celebrate—Whitmanesque— in the face of it. I think humans need that,” Green said. “Especially in Ecowriting, in the face of climate change and its injustices….we need that.  We need to feast, along with the more-than-human world, on the joys and celebrations (that we don’t have to buy from anyone, for which have to displace no carbon), which are already here.”

Graywolf Press will publish her book “More Extravagant Feast” in April 2020.