Calleja Smiley Welsh Wins Inaugural Richard Howard Memorial Prize

Carlos Barragán
June 26, 2024

Poetry student Calleja Smiley Welsh has been awarded the inaugural Richard Howard Memorial Prize in Poetry, named after late Writing professor and beloved mentor Richard Howard. Welsh's submission—which included the poems "The Bunchberry Dogwood," "You’ll find everything here that can no longer be exchanged," "We Lit a Candle for Your Mother," "Joan of Arc," and "Breadmaking"—was selected by judge Grace Schulman, award-winning author of nine collections of poetry. 

"These poems are stirring for their precise observations of nature and art, their deep insights into history, and, most of all, for their relevance to our daily lives,” Schulman said, “Their newness surprises, and yet their emotional accuracy is timeless." 

Welsh expressed deep appreciation for the award, reflecting on the influence of Richard Howard’s legacy on her writing. “I am so delighted to be the first recipient of the award! I just missed the opportunity to meet Richard Howard in person since I came to Columbia a few months after his passing. So I feel very honored to be able to participate in his legacy, even in this indirect way," said Welsh, who admires Howard's ability to embody various voices through dramatic monologue poems. 

“Howard has quoted Yeats when referring to his own practice of writing other selves: 'I think all happiness in life depends on having the energy to assume the mask of some other self,'" Welsh continued. "Although I do not typically write in a similarly voiced mode to Howard, I am interested the most in exploring places and beings external to me when I write. I too feel that I am most fully myself when I am unburdened from merely representing my own personality on the page.”

Welsh’s approach to poetry rarely comes from a sense of inspiration, but from integrating ideas about nature and art with day-to-day observations. “Waiting on the muse is less interesting to me than walking through museums and forests, talking with a dear friend, or taking note of how the light comes through my dusty window," she said. “I often write poetry because something I see holds my interest in a puzzling or awe-inspiring way. I think some of my most satisfying work is done when I’m weaving ideas with the material reality, say, of a painting or a particular plant,” Welsh explained. 

Poetry student Jordan Caleb Daley received an honorable mention for their poems "The Poet’s Daughter as a Negro Madonna;" "Thomas Jefferson, the Delegate from Virginia & Former President of the United States of America as a Statue;" "The Suicide of King Saul;" "The Image of the French Colonialist Slain;" and "Barbados."

The Richard Howard Memorial Prize in Poetry is made possible by a generous gift from Howard’s husband, artist David Alexander. The prize, which includes a monetary award, is designed to support the recipient as they transition from coursework to completing their thesis. Next year’s prize application call will be open in March 2025.