Annal: 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1997.

Book:Black Zodiac

Black Zodiac

Charles Wright

Black Zodiac offers poems suffused with spiritual longing—lyrical meditations on faith, religion, heritage, and morality. The poems also explore aging and mortality with restless grace. Approaching his vast subjects by way of small moments, Wright magnifies details to reveal truths much larger than the quotidian happenings that engendered them. His is an astonishing, flexible, domestic-yet-universal verse. As the critic Helen Vendler has observed, Wright is a poet who “sounds like nobody else.”

Book:Desire

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:Does Your House Have Lions?

Does Your House Have Lions?

Sonia Sanchez

Does Your House Have Lions? explores the life of Sonia Sanchez’s brother—a vibrant young man who left the South for New York, immersed himself in the city’s gay subculture, and became a victim of AIDS in the first years of the pandemic. Sanchez describes her brother’s alienation from his family and his illness and death from AIDS with her characteristic tenderness. Told in the voices of sister, brother, father, mother, and ancestors, it is the story of kin estranged and then finally brought together by their shared history of loss, separation, and pain. This brave epic poem shatters silences surrounding gay sexuality in African-American families and imagines the possibility of reconciliation and love. It offers a meditation on the living meanings of journey, life, and death—an opportunity for all of us to find a way home.

Book:Loose Sugar

Loose Sugar

Brenda Hillman

Loose Sugar is an alchemical manuscript disguised as a collection of poems, or vice versa. Either way, the primal materials of which this book is comprised—love, sex, adolescence, space-time, depression, post-colonialism, and sugar—are movingly and mysteriously transmuted: not into gold, but into a poet’s philosopher’s stone, in which language marries life.

Structurally virtuosic, elaborate without being ornate, Loose Sugar is spun into series within series: each of the five sections has a dual heading (such as “space / time” or “time / work”) in which the terms are neither in collision nor collusion, but in conversation. It’s elemental sweet talk, and is Brenda Hillman’s most experimental work to date, culminating in a meditation on the possibility of a native—and feminine—language.

Book:Questions for Ecclesiastes

Questions for Ecclesiastes: Poems

Mark Jarman

The relationship between God and humankind is more troubling and urgent than ever. Questions for Ecclesiastes, especially the “20 Unholy Sonnets”, handles problems of religious faith in fresh ways. They explore the parallels between family life and sacred myth, and attempt to revive the personal, devotional address to God.

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