Annal: 1996 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1996.

Book:Mixed Company

Mixed Company

Alan Shapiro

Respected poet, teacher, and critic Alan Shapiro continues his much-acclaimed explorations of childhood, family, and marriage in Mixed Company. Revealing a world troubled by difference while struggling toward commonality, and with equal attention to historical detail and the poetics of everyday life, from the mythic past to the abrasive intimacies of the present, Shapiro charts the many ways our social and sexual identities are formed, threatened, altered, and, for good or ill, preserved. Deeply felt and ambitious, Mixed Company is an extraordinary book by one of the leading poets writing in America today.

“What draws us into Alan Shapiro’s Mixed Company is not a conspicuous felicity or any sort of bravura, but the quiet, undaunted way he goes after the truth of human feeling and motive.…The poems grope and conjecture, looking for understanding…but whatever may remain unsolved and insoluble, the poems are full of astonishing insights, a rare articulateness, and what another age called ‘knowledge of the human heart.’ ” —Richard Wilbur

Book:Dream of the Unified Field

Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994

Jorie Graham

For this major collection, spanning twenty years of writing, Jorie Graham has made a generous selection from her five previous volumes of poetry: Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts, Erosion, The End of Beauty, Region of Unlikeness, and Materialism.

Book:The Figured Wheel

The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996

Robert Pinsky

The Figured Wheel fully collects the first four books of poetry, as well as twenty-one new poems, by Robert Pinsky, the former U.S. Poet Laureate.

Critic Hugh Kenner, writing about Pinsky’s first volume, described this poet’s work as “nothing less than the recovery for language of a whole domain of mute and familiar experience.” Both the transformation of the familiar and the uttering of what has been hitherto mute or implicit in our culture continue to be central to Pinsky’s art. New poems like “Avenue” and “The City Elegies” envision the urban landscape’s mysterious epitome of human pain and imagination, forces that recur in “Ginza Samba,” an astonishing history of the saxophone, and “Impossible to Tell,” a jazz-like work that intertwines elegy with both the Japanese custom of linking-poems and the American tradition of ethnic jokes. A final section of translations includes Pinsky’s renderings of poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Celan, and others, as well as the last canto of his award-winning version of the Inferno.

Book:Meadowlands

Meadowlands

Louise Glück

In an astonishing book-length sequence, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louise Glück interweaves the dissolution of a contemporary marriage with the story of The Odyssey. Here is Penelope stubbornly weaving, elevating the act of waiting into an act of will; here, too, is a worldly Circe, a divided Odysseus, and a shrewd adolescent Telemachus. Through these classical figures, Meadowlands explores such timeless themes as the endless negotiation of family life, the cruelty that intimacy enables, and the frustrating trivia of the everyday. Glück discovers in contemporary life the same quandary that lies at the heart of The Odyssey: the “unanswerable/affliction of the human heart: how to divide/the world’s beauty into acceptable/and unacceptable loves.”

Book:Passing Through

Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected

Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz, one of the masters of contemporary poetry, presents his ninth collection, gathering a rich selection of his work, including new poems that remind us of his prefatory statement: “Art is the chalice into which we pour the wine of transcendence.” Nearly all the poems of Kunitz’s later years, beginning with “The Testing-Tree” (1971), are included, and most of the poems in Passing Through are unavailable in any other edition. In “Touch Me,” the last poem in the collection, Kunitz propounds a question, “What makes the engine go?” and gives us his answer: “Desire, desire, desire.” These poems fairly hum with the energy, the excitement, the ardor, that make Kunitz one of our most enduring and highly honored poets. In the words of Carolyn Forche, “he is a living treasure.”

Book:The Terrible Stories

The Terrible Stories: Poems

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton is one of the most distinguished American poets writing today. In The Terrible Stories, her tenth collection of verse, Clifton covers new terrain—cancer and mastectomy, the life of King David, encounters with a vixen fox who is both shaman and muse. Brilliantly honed language, stunning images and sharp rhythms addresses the whole of human experience: birth, death, children, family, sexuality and spirituality, and community in antebellum and contemporary American culture. Hers is a poetry passionate and wise, not afraid to rage or whisper.

Book:Things That Happen Once

Things That Happen Once: New Poems

Rodney Jones

Things That Happen Once, Jones’s fifth volume, may well be his finest yet, combining currents of southern evangelism, contemporary sophistication, and passionate moral engagement. Its forty-one poems display an exciting power of language and open up new visions of inheritance and parenthood, sexuality and change. In doing so, these poems release energy that American poets and readers of poetry will eagerly welcome.

Book:Wise Poison

Wise Poison: Poems

David Rivard

In Wise Poison David Rivard gives us a mind hard at work on the most vital questions: Who am I? What do I love? What can be trusted? At issue in these passionate arguments with the self are the “curious forces” that surround us in every part of our lives. In an airport lounge in the Yucatán, in the song of a street musician, or simply in the pulsing of skin along the neck, Rivard finds connections and doubt, and reason for both comfort and rage.

Book:The World at Large

The World at Large: New and Selected Poems, 1971-1996

James McMichael

The World at Large brings together the best of James McMichael’s poetry and includes works that appear for the first time in this volume. With the publication of the new poems, McMichael surpasses even the formally daring and psychologically penetrating poetry that has characterized his work thus far.

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