Soft-spoken and tranquil are two words synonymous with Stephen Ratcliffe’s personality and poetry, the latter of which was honored with a special award on campus.
Ratcliffe received the Poetry Center’s Book Award for his “Selected Days” poetry collection Thursday and read from the works that garnered this prestige.
Ratcliffe, who was born in Massachusetts, has strong roots in the Bay Area and moved here when he was 4 years old, living in the North Bay town of Bolinas for most of his life. His poetry derives from observing the nature that surrounds him in Bolinas, then painting a detailed mental image while using ambient and ambiguous language.
“(Bolinas) is kinda a special little spot in nature surrounded on two sides by ocean and Point Reyes park,” said Ratcliffe of his biggest inspiration. “It’s not the suburbs. It’s this tiny little town. Where I live you don’t even see anything.”
Ratcliffe’s award-winning collection is a display of poetry that spans two decades of work and is accumulated from six other works. The poems, titled by the date they were written, are the last entries from his collections “Portraits and Repetition,” “Real,” “Cloud Ridge,” “Human Nature,” “Remarks on Color/ Sound” and “Temporality.” Each collection contains different structures, but is tied together by its appreciation for nature.
“These poems are a chronicling of time and place,” Ratcliffe said.
Ratcliffe is unconventional in that he doesn’t use traditional ways to distribute his work, and is increasingly publishing online. Despite the preference to publish online he still boasts a count of 19 published works.
Ratcliffe read excerpts from his collection at the Poetry Center to a group of eager creative writing majors that filled the room.
“It was really fascinating,” said Steve Dickison, director of the Poetry Center and the host of the event, following Ratcliffe’s reading. “It was wonderful to hear the work become music.”
The Poetry Center’s Book Award is given annually to a single book of poetry that the center feels is exemplary. Any poet can enter his/her work as long as it is copyrighted and he/she provides a $10 entrance fee. Money collected from the fee is given to the winner of the award, along with an invitation to read his/her winning work at the Poetry Center.
“It was really interesting,” said Sarah Marshall, a creative writing and French major, regarding the event. “I write a lot from memory and so it was interesting hearing a lot about writing in the present and the experience around you. I don’t do that very often.”
The award isn’t necessarily given to students or alumni, but Stephen Rodefer, a student who received his master’s degree at SF State, won the award in 1982 for his “Four Lectures” collection. Rodefer is best know as being one of the founders of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry movement and hanging out with influential beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. His entire collection of work was purchased by Stanford University and is on permanent display.
Ratcliffe said he was honored to receive an award that has been given to other important poets in the past.
“It was certainly a great surprise to me, to find an email from Steve Dickison one night,” Ratcliffe said. “I’d totally forgotten this book being in the Poetry Center Book Award. Of course I was really surprised and very happy and thrilled.”
For more of Ratcliffe’s poetry, visit his publisher’s website at counterpathpress.org.