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Brennan O’Donnell wins prestigious literary award

Feb 24th, 2014

Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award

            Kent State University Press author Brennan O’Donnell, a scholar of nineteenth-century British literature and President of Manhattan College, has been named the 2014 recipient of the Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award.

            The award is unique among literary and academic prizes in recognizing scholars who have made a lasting contribution to the art and science of versification.  Named after the famous Harvard professor and translator of Homer, Virgil, and Sophocles, the award was established at the Fifth Annual West Chester University Poetry Conference in 1999.  Between the 1960s and the 1980s Fitzgerald taught a highly sought after course in Prosody, the study of the meters and rhythms of poetry.

            Dana Gioia, one of Fitzgerald’s many students and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has been a member of the selection committee since the inception of the Prosody Award.  Reflecting the self-amusement that prosodists often feel about what might be considered an arcane subject, Gioia put it this way: “Brennan O’Donnell is a distinguished college president with a skeleton in his closet—he is also a great scholar of prosody.  We are sorry to expose this shameful secret, but O’Donnell’s extraordinary work on the poetic technique of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge is too good to ignore.  His highly original scholarship has expanded our understanding of the English Romantics.”

            O’Donnell’s influential works include a book on Wordsworth’s meter and articles on verse technique between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.  His 1995 book, The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth’s Metrical Art (Kent State University Press), offers a convincing refutation of the widespread view that Wordsworth, for all his genius, is uninteresting in the meters and rhythms of his poetry.

            O’Donnell’s technical analysis of Wordsworth’s art has practical relevance for present-day poets.  The Romantic poet’s subtle modulations of the iambic line, as described by O’Donnell, offer practical models and specific ideas for poets writing in form.  This deeper understanding is a salutary corrective to unfavorable comparisons with the more noticeable pyrotechnics of Wordsworth’s friend and collaborator, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a view that held sway for most of the twentieth century.

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