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Randall Jarrell

Written by Executive Director Ed Southern

Randall Jarrell was so much more than the namesake of the Network’s annual poetry contest.

He was the captain of the tennis team at Vanderbilt, where he studied under Robert Penn Warren. He was a World War II veteran, which inspired some of his best poems, notably “The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner.”* He was the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a position we now call the Poet Laureate of the United States. He was a poet and critic of international renown.

Most importantly to us, for many years he taught modern poetry and “imaginative writing” at the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina – what’s now UNC Greensboro. Before his untimely death in 1965 he helped to lay the foundation not only for UNCG’s remarkable creative writing program, but North Carolina’s claim to be the Writingest State.

So I was glad to come across this entry in Kamran Javadizadeh‘s Substack, Close Readings, in which he talks to Stephanie Burt about Jarrell’s poem “The Player Piano.” Burt herself is a poet and critic, as well as the author of Randall Jarrell and His Age.

If you’re not familiar with Jarrell and his work, this is a good place to start, and I hope it will be the start of a new appreciation for his work.

Oh, and if you’re interested in submitting your own work to his namesake poetry contest, you have until March 1.

* This poem carries particular power for me, since my grandfather was a ball-turret gunner in WWII.