Annal: 1997 National Book Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Award in the year 1997.

Book:Effort at Speech

Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems

William Meredith

A contemporary of John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, and Robert Lowell, William Meredith shared neither the bohemian excesses of the Beats nor the exhibitionist excesses of the “confessional” poets. Rather, Meredith was known from the beginning of his career as a poet whose unadorned, formal verse marked him as a singular voice. From his early, deeply personal poems to the later, less formal poems concerned with tolerance, civility, and shared values, Meredith’s craft is marked by a thoughtfulness not often seen in poets of his, or successive, generations. He is the master of the poem that seems colloquial at first glance, but is in fact deliberately voiced, measured out, and shaped. His is a voice of unequaled honesty and clarity.


Desire: Poems

Frank Bidart

I hate and—love. The sleepless body hammering a nail nails itself, hanging crucified.—from “Catullus: Excrucior”

In Frank Bidart’s collection of poems, the encounter with desire is the encounter with destiny. The first half contains some of Bidart’s most luminous and intimate work-poems about the art of writing, Eros, and the desolations and mirror of history (in a spectacular narrative based on Tacitus). The second half of the book exts the overt lyricism of the opening section into even more ambitious territory-”The Second Hour of the Night” may be Bidart’s most profound and complex meditation on the illusion of will, his most seductive dramatic poem to date.

Book:The Fields of Praise

The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems

Marilyn Nelson

In The Fields of Praise, Marilyn Nelson claims as subjects the life of the spirit, the vicissitudes of love, and the African American experience and arranges them as white pebbles marking our common journey toward a “monstrous love / that wants to make the world right.” Nelson is a poet of stunning power, able to bring alive the most rarified and subtle of experiences. A slave destined to become a minister preaches sermons of heartrending eloquence and wisdom to a mule. An old woman scrubbing over a washtub receives a personal revelation of what Emancipation means: “So this is freedom: the peace of hours like these.” Memories of the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen in the face of aerial combat abroad and virulent racism at home bring a speaker to the sudden awareness of herself as the daughter “of a thousand proud fathers.”

Book:Locusts at the Edge of Summer

Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New & Selected Poems

John Balaban

While serving as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, John Balaban cared for war-wounded children. The poems which he which he wrote out of that experience are among the finest in American literature and are included here along with three decades of other highly-praised, award-winning poetry.

Book:Primate Behavior

Primate Behavior

Sarah Lindsay

Primate Behavior is the product of a wild and exhilarating imagination, ranging wide across an abundant imaginary landscape. Sarah Lindsay writes of space migration and the cave paintings of 35,000 B.C. Her poems speak from the perspective of an embalmed mummy and detail the adventures and misadventures of nineteenth-century explorers. Lindsay investigates the world as no one has yet had the daring and inspiration to do, reanimating history and folk legend and setting in motion curious new worlds that speak eccentrically, but unmistakably, to our own.

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