Belarusian Poet Named 20th Clampitt Resident

Sitting in the kitchen with her back to a wall of aging books, Valzhyna Mort looks out the window and shivers. "Will winter be over soon?" she asks with a grin, as if she already knows the answer. In the next room, her husband and three-year-old daughter toss logs and newspapers into the fireplace. This is their very first visit to the Berkshires.

Valzhyna was recently named the 20th recipient of the Amy Clampitt residency, a program of Berkshire Taconic that since 2003 has provided poets and literary scholars a paid six- or 12-month stay at Clampitt's former residence near Lenox, Mass., where they can focus exclusively on their work.

Originally from Minsk, Belarus, Valzhyna has published collections of poetry in both English and Belarusian. She is a recipient of the Crystal of Vilencia award in Slovenia (2005), the Burda Poetry Prize in Germany (2008), The Bess Hokin Prize for Poetry (2010), and a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship (2010). 

She is the youngest writer ever to appear on the cover of Poets & Writers magazine, and her work has been featured in the New Yorker. She and her husband, who is also a poet, settled in Ithaca, NY three years ago, where Valzhyna is currently a visiting poetry professor at Cornell University. 

"As a poet who has to teach for a living, I don't get as much time to write," she says. "My head is always writing, but it might take a while to find the time to sit and put it all on paper. That's why for me, residencies like this have always been very beneficial." 

Valzhyna and her family arrived in Berkshire County three weeks ago. She has already implemented a strict full-day reading and writing schedule that she intends to follow for the next six months. 

"Here, I wake up in the morning and I live that fantasy life of a writer," says Valzhyna. "After breakfast it's straight to reading and writing. Browsing through books. Making discoveries. Maybe remembering to have some lunch, then going back to writing."

Poet-residents are selected by a committee that includes prize-winning poet Mary Jo Salter, longtime Knopf editor Ann Close and Massachusetts-based poets Karen Chase (of Lenox) and John Hennessy (a past recipient now on the faculty at UMass Amherst). This one-of-a-kind residency was established through the generosity of Clampitt's husband, Harold Korn, who made provisions for it in his will before his death in 2001.

To learn more about the Amy Clampitt Fund visit www.amyclampitt.org