One of the few modern poets who succeeded in incorporating a contemporary sensibility within tight and traditional forms, Mona Van Duyn did not receive appropriate recognition until 1971, when she won the Bollingen Prize for Poetry and To See, To Take received the National Book Award. She had, however, won several prizes previous to those—the Eunice Tietjens Award, the Harriet Monroe Award from Poetry, the Helen Bullis Award from Poetry Northwest, the Hart Crane Memorial Award from American Weave Press, and first prize in the Borestone Mountain Awards Volume of 1968. She was one of the first five American poets to be awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1972-1973, she held a Guggenheim Fellowship. She received the Russell Loines Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1976, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1980, the Shelley Memorial Award in 1987, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1989, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for Near Changes. She became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983 and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1985 to 1998. She received honorary doctorates from Washington University, Cornell College, the University of Northern Iowa, the University of the South, George Washington University, and Georgetown University. She was named poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress for 1992-1993.
Van Duyn published steadily after the appearance of her first collection, Valentines to the Wide World, in 1959. Her work has been praised by fellow poets as diverse as Carolyn Kizer, Richard Howard, Maxine Kumin, James Dickey, Alfred Corn, and Howard Nemerov. Critic David Kalstone spoke of her work as manifesting “a whole life grasped, in the most urgent and rewarding sense of the word.” She achieved her effects by hard work, revising each poem extensively. “What I try to do,” she stated, “is move readers’ minds and feelings simultaneously with a structure which is intense and formal. If beauty means integrity, then a poem should be beautiful.”