The Country Writer

I am as grateful for this award as I am surprised by it, and I certainly did not see it coming. Obviously, it cannot be easy to feel worthy of an award bearing the name of T.S. Eliot, and so probably I ought to say that I am grateful, but unconvinced. The etiquette attendant upon these occasions suggests that an award is a culmination, a recognition of work done. And that is true, of course, but to the awardee the matter is necessarily more complex. My wish today is to speak as steadfastly as I can from the point of view of the awardee. First, as I have already implied, the awardee had better allow for the possibility that he is being honored beyond his merit. He will recall that error in such a matter would not be without precedent. The awardee must next contend with the implications of the notion that he has "won" the award. The indispensable correction comes from William Blake: "I cannot think that Real Poets have any competition." And that can be taken in two ways: either one is a Real Poet and does not feel competitive, or one wishes to be a Real Poet and therefore had better try not to feel competitive. Either way, the awardee will remember that however solitary he may be in his work, his art is communal. The work of one writer is made possible by the work of fellow writers, past and present, and by the work of many others who are not or were not writers.

That thought leads the awardee to an embarrassing...

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