Vijay Seshadri was born in Bangalore, India, in 1954 and came to America at the age of five. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where his father taught chemistry at Ohio State University. His poetry collections include 3 Sections (Graywolf Press, 2013), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; The Long Meadow (Graywolf Press, 2004), which won the James Laughlin Award; and Wild Kingdom (1996).
His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in A Public Space, AGNI, The American Scholar, Antaeus, Bomb, Boulevard, Epiphany, Fence, Field, Lumina, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, the Philadelphia Enquirer, Ploughshares, Poetry, The San Diego Reader, Shenandoah, The Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, the Times Book Review, TriQuarterly, Verse, Western Humanities Review, The Yale Review, and in many anthologies, including Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets, Contours of the Heart, Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times and The Best American Poetry 1997, 2003, 2006, and 2013.
Seshadri has received grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts and has been awarded The Paris Review’s Bernard F. Conners Long Poem Prize and the MacDowell Colony’s Fellowship for Distinguished Poetic Achievement. He holds an AB degree from Oberlin College and an MFA from Columbia University. He currently teaches poetry and nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, where he has held the Michele Tolela Myers Chair. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
The 98th annual Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism, Letters, Drama and Music were announced on Monday by Columbia University. Seshadri's '3 Sections' is a "compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless," the announcement said.
The prize for the poetry category was given for a "distinguished volume of original verse" by an American author. A Columbia University alum, Seshadri would receive USD 10,000 reward. Here are some profound lines from his award-winning collection of poetry.
Some of his poems
They were in the scullery talking.
The meadow had to be sold to pay their riotous expenses;
then the woods by the river,
with its tangled banks and snags elbowing out of the water,
had to go; and then the summer house where they talked—
all that was left of an estate once so big
a man riding fast on a fast horse
couldn’t cross it in a day. Genevieve. Hortense. Mémé.
The family’s last born, whose pale name is inscribed on the rolls
of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. As in the fresco of the Virgin,
where the copper in the pigment oxidizes to trace a thin green cicatrix
along a seam of Her red tunic,
a suspicion of one another furrowed their
consanguine, averted faces.
Why go anywhere at all when it rains like this,
when the trees are sloppy and hooded
and the foot sinks to the ankle in the muddy lane?
I didn’t stay for the end of the conversation.
I was wanted in Paris. Paris, astounded by my splendor
and charmed by my excitable manner,
waited to open its arms to me.
Bright Copper Kettles
Dead friends coming back to life, dead family,
speaking languages living and dead, their minds retentive,
their five senses intact, their footprints like a butterfly’s,
mercy shining from their comprehensive faces—
this is one of my favorite things.
I like it so much I sleep all the time.
Moon by day and sun by night find me dispersed
deep in the dreams where they appear.
In fields of goldenrod, in the city of five pyramids,
before the empress with the melting face, under
the towering plane tree, they just show up.
“It’s all right,” they seem to say. “It always was.”
They are diffident and polite.
(Who knew the dead were so polite?)
They don’t want to scare me; their heads don’t spin like weather vanes.
They don’t want to steal my body
and possess the earth and wreak vengeance.
They’re dead, you understand, they don’t exist. And, besides,
why would they care? They’re subatomic, horizontal. Think about it.
One of them shyly offers me a pencil.
The eyes under the eyelids dart faster and faster.
Through the intercom of the house where for so long there was no music,
the right Reverend Al Green is singing,
“I could never see tomorrow.
I was never told about the sorrow.”
You’d have to be as crazy as Dante to get those down,
the infernal hatreds.
Shoot them. Shoot them where they live
and then skip town.
Or stay and re-engineer
the decrepit social contraption
to distill the 200-proof
elixir of fear
and torture the...the what
from the what? And didn’t I promise,
under threat of self-intubation,
not to envision this
corridor, coal-tar black,
that narrows down and in
to a shattering claustrophobia attack
before opening out
to the lake of frozen shit
where the gruesome figure is discerned?
Turn around, go home.
Just to look at it is to become it.
2. PURGATORY, THE FILM
He was chronically out of work, why we don’t know.
She was the second born of a set
of estranged identical twins. They met,
hooked up, and moved in with her mother,
who managed a motel on Skyline Drive.
But always it was the other,
the firstborn, the bad twin, the runaway,
he imagined in the shadow
of the “Vacancy” sign
or watching through the window
below the dripping eaves
while they made love or slept.
The body is relaxed and at rest,
the mind is relaxed in its nest,
so the self that is and is not
itself rises and leaves
to peek over the horizon, where it sees
all its psychokinetic possibilities
resolving into shapely fictions.
She was brave, nurturing, kind.
She was evil. She was out of her mind.
She was a junkie trading sex for a fix,
a chief executive, an aviatrix.
She was an angel
to the blinded and the lamed,
the less-than-upright, the infra dig.
And she was even a failure.
She went to L.A. to make it big
and crept back home injured and ashamed.
3. PURGATORY, THE SEQUEL
They put him in jail, why we don’t know.
They stamped him “Postponed.”
But he didn’t mind.
The screws were almost kind.
He had leisure to get his muscles toned,
mental space to regret his crimes,
and when he wasn’t fabricating license plates
he was free
to remember the beauty
that not once but a thousand times
escaped him forever, and escapes me, too:
ghosts of a mist drifting
across the face of the stars,
with the crescent moon and Mars,
prismatic fracturings in a drop of dew...
There’s drought on the mountain.
Wildfires scour the hills.
So the mammal crawls down the desiccated rills
searching for the fountain,
which it finds, believe it or not,
or sort of finds. A thin silver sliver
rises from an underground river
and makes a few of the hot
rocks steam and the pebbles hiss.
Soon the mammal will drink,
but it has first
to stop and think
its reflexive, impeccable thought:
that thinking comes down to this—
mystery, longing, thirst.