URI poet wins prestigious PEN award

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KINGSTON, R.I. –September 19, 2007—Poet Peter Covino, assistant professor of English who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Rhode Island, is the recipient of the 2007 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry for his poetry collection, Cut Off the Ears of Winter. The PEN Literary Awards were presented in May at Lincoln Center in New York City.

The award recognizes the high literary character of the published work to date of a new and emerging American poet of any age and the promise of further literary achievement, according to the PEN American Center, an association of writers working to advance literature, defend free expression, and foster international literary fellowship.

The judges wrote in their citation: “Images of real and symbolic violence ricochet and reflect off each other in this elegant and disturbing collection. The poems chronicle, among other things, a history of childhood abuse and its after effects, but in a larger sense, they also explore through the lens of myth, art, religion, and popular culture, the underlying and often unacknowledged brutality beneath even mundane events. Covino’s voice is urgent: ‘This is my last dollar, last cigarette, last match,’ but it is also witty, sophisticated, erudite, and street-wise. How can we not pay attention?”

Covino was born in Italy and educated there and in the United States, where he earned a master’s degree from Columbia School of Social Work. As a social worker, he worked in the fields of foster care, AIDS services, and youth and family services.

He earned his doctorate in English/Creative Writing at the University of Utah where he was twice a Steffensen Cannon Fellow. His creative writing and research continue to be strongly influenced by the interrelationship of ethnic culture, work in translation, and psychosocial identity. Currently, he is completing a translation project of Italian poets for an anthology on Contemporary European Poets, which will be published by Graywolf Press in 2008.

He joined URI’s English faculty in 2006. He coordinated the first University’s Ocean State Summer Writing Conference, which attracted more than 240 participants this past June.

Covino is also the author of Straight Boyfriend, winner of the 2001 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Prize. His poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Columbia, The Journal, The Paris Review, Verse, and The Penguin Book of Italian American Writing. Currently, he is completing a translation project of Italian poets for an anthology on Contemporary European Poets, Graywolf Press 2007.

Covino is also one of the founding editors of the literary press, Barrow Street Inc., and Barrow Street Books.

In presenting the award to Covino, Elaine Equi, one of the judges, noted that she searched for a word to describe the exceptional young poet. She chose “engaging.” She added:

Like a politic poet, Covino is engaged with the deeply troubled ethical issues of his poems. But just as important, he is an incredibly engaging writer. Somehow no matter how disturbing the subject matter, he presents it with wit, curiosity, and compassion. He’s a writer who is not afraid of the dark and reading him makes us a little less frightened too.