The Poetry Center Book Award has been presented annually since 1980 by The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University, to a single outstanding book of poetry published in the previous year. The award carries a cash prize and an invitation to read, along with the award judge, at The Poetry Center in San Francisco.

The Poetry Center Book Award goes to Ashley Toliver, for Spectra (Coffee House Press)

Poetry Center Book Award winner Ashley Toliver read her work, along with award judge Jason Bayani, followed by a conversation with one another and their audience, Thursday September 17, 2020.

Judge's Statement:

  • Ashley Toliver’s Spectra is an immensely moving work. Its three-act structure entrenches within the violent friction between nature and manmade forms and between nature and the human body. Under Toliver’s carefully measured pen, this movement through violence brought to mind for me, persistence: the persistence to withstand the structures of domesticity (and all those structures domesticity is nestled under); the persistence to withstand an attack from within the body as that same body is bearing a new life. It is Toliver’s persistence that tempers and, at times, wields the flame of this violence, it is this persistence that seeks to create from absence, and from the first page to the last it absolutely mesmerizes me. In the poem “Standing Outside Your House with a Match and a Gallon of Gasoline”, Toliver writes “I still don’t know what kind of woman/ I am. But as the flame nears the fingers/ that trust the match, as close as the skin/ can stand it to singe, I call this the nerve/ to find out—”. As taken as I am by the journey within the book, I am also moved by the vision the book creates, a vision of a woman holding both the fire of life and death in her hands, that searches within it all with a keen strength and wonder. And how gorgeous and powerful of a vision Ashley Toliver makes, what this vision, when we acknowledge it from a Black woman’s lens, means within the context of this time; what it pulls back from erasure; what it invokes and empowers. I am deeply in awe of this book— this book that is constantly seeking, that seeks to reclaim and repossess, that knows this is worthy of our persistence, at least until death, which, as Toliver writes, is “the last road to awe I know.”

 —Jason Bayani

Recipients of the Poetry Center Book Award, 1980–present

The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University seeks submissions for the annual Poetry Center Book Award.

Entrees for 2020 copyright books will be accepted from JULY 1, 2020 thru JANUARY 31, 2021.

Entrees for 2021 copyright books will be accepted from JULY 1, 2021 thru JANUARY 31, 2022.

Published original books of poetry by a single author (no collaborative works, anthologies, or manuscripts) must be copyrighted 2020. Translated works when translated by the author do qualify (e.g., work written in Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog, et al., and translated to English by the author). Entrees can be submitted by publisher, author, or by a reader. An entry fee of $15 per book—all of which goes directly to the benefit of the award winner and award judge—must accompany each book. Please include a cover letter indicating the author's name, book title(s), name of person or publisher issuing check, and check number.

Checks should be payable to The Poetry Center and entrees mailed to:

The Poetry Center/SF State
Book Award
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco CA 94132

*The judge for the award will not be announced in advance.

View the recipients from 1980 forward for the Poetry Center Book Award.