The Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing announced California author Mark Irwin as the winner of the 2018 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry book contest, which includes a $2,000 award and publication of his 10th book, “Shimmer.”

The Creative Writing Program sponsors the national prize, which honors Levine, the late poet and professor emeritus who was a founder of Fresno State’s poetry writing program, a 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry and the 2011 poet laureate of the United States. The prize is co-sponsored in partnership with Florida-based Anhinga Press, which has published poetry books since 1974.

C.G. Hanzlicek, the Levine Prize final judge and award-winning poet and Fresno State professor emeritus, chose Irwin’s manuscript as the winner. There were 809 manuscript submissions. Hanzlicek wrote of the winning entry:

“Reading a poem by Mark Irwin is like watching time-lapse photography of an iris coming into bloom: Interesting and beautiful things unfold very quickly. His imagery is as varied as the twin towers, the ‘digital haze’ on our device screens or sunlight passing through a jar of marmalade. Many of the poems have the urgency of incantations to summon what has been lost. Through all of his work runs a quiet, restless probing, a shimmer, where ‘the seconds fill us like a lake with rain.’”

Irwin teaches graduate and undergraduate poetry workshops in the Creative Writing and Literature Program at the University of Southern California, and he lives in Los Angeles and Colorado. He earned his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. His poetry has been described as a “descendent of William Carlos Williams and Hart Crane” and has been translated into several languages.

Irwin’s nine collections of poetry include “A Passion According to Green” (2017), “American Urn: New & Selected Poems” (1987-2014), “Tall If” (2009), “Bright Hunger” (2004), and “White City” (2000). His collection of essays, “Monster: Distortion, Abstraction and Originality in Contemporary American Poetry,” was published in 2017.

Recognition for Irwin’s work includes four Pushcart Prizes, two Colorado Book Awards, The Nation/Discovery Award, the James Wright Poetry Award and fellowships from the Fulbright, Lilly, NEA and Wurlitzer foundations.

Hanzlicek also noted two manuscripts as contest finalists: “The Midwestern Book of the Dead” by Regina DiPerna of New York City; and “The Fox Has Risen” by J.P. White of Excelsior, Minnesota.

The Philip Levine Prize for Poetry is an annual national book contest open to all poets, except current or former students or faculty of Fresno State. It is coordinated by Professor Corrinne Clegg Hales as part of the University’s English 242 graduate course, Literary Editing and Publishing, which provides students with real-world experience in the field. The contest offers a $2,000 prize plus publication and distribution by Anhinga Press, which has co-sponsored the prize since the contest’s inception in 2001.


(Graduate assistant Kirk Alvaro Lua contributed to this report.)