Annal: 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2000.

Book:Carolina Ghost Woods

Carolina Ghost Woods: Poems

Judy Jordan

“A startling first collection of poems—startling because of bone-crushing violence and poverty and startling also because of the beautiful and precise language the poet brings on these scenes, violent or not…. The genius of these poems is that they insist on seeking the human despite devastating circumstances. Even the most wrung-out individual must still have a soul.” —James Tate, from his judge’s citation

The daughter of sharecroppers and raised on a small farm near the Carolinas’ border, Judy Jordan in her first poetry collection transforms the harshness of her youth with the beauty, inventiveness, and musicality of language. Physical and emotional privation, familial violence, racial enmity, and recurrent death haunt Carolina Ghost Woods, which is set amid the lush landscape of the South and enfolds the wildness—inclement and consoling by turns—of nature and agriculture. Jordan, though, reveals…[more]

Book:The Ledge

The Ledge

Michael Collier

A new collection of poetry by the director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, which celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2000. “Dark splendor” are the words Edward Hirsch uses to describe the poems of the award-winning author Michael Collier. Collier’s new work balances on the ledge between the everyday and the unknown, revealing the hidden depths of relationships. The poems in The Ledge are narrative and colloquial, musical and crystalline, at once intimate and sharp-edged. They render the world beautifully mysterious as they slide into unexpected emotional territory. A son loses his father’s favorite hammer, and with it his trust. In “The Wave,” the enthusiastic crowd at a baseball game rises and sits in frightening unison, belying their hopeful cheering. In “Fathom and League,” a dive two miles deep in the Pacific reveals the submerged volcanoes of the ocean and the soul. In many of the poems, the familiar animal world - of dogs and sparrows and possums in the yard - transfigures…[more]

Book:Men in the Off Hours

Men in the Off Hours

Anne Carson

Following her widely acclaimed Autobiography of Red (“A spellbinding achievement” —Susan Sontag), a new collection of poetry and prose that displays Anne Carson’s signature mixture of opposites—the classic and the modern, cinema and print, narrative and verse.

In Men in the Off Hours, Carson reinvents figures as diverse as Oedipus, Emily Dickinson, and Audubon. She views the writings of Sappho, St. Augustine, and Catullus through a modern lens. She sets up startling juxtapositions (Lazarus among video paraphernalia; Virginia Woolf and Thucydides discussing war). And in a final prose poem, she meditates on the recent death of her mother.

With its quiet, acute spirituality, its fearless wit and sensuality, and its joyful understanding that “the fact of the matter for humans is imperfection,” Men in the Off Hours shows us “the most exciting poet writing in English today” (Michael Ondaatje) at her best.

Book:Talking Dirty to the Gods

Talking Dirty to the Gods: Poems

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa examines the basic rituals connecting insects, animals, human beings, and gods in this inspired collection. No turn in any life cycle is taboo here; it is the author’s personal challenge that shame not dictate any facet of subject matter in this volume, a volume in which each of the seven deadly sins is enlivened, sloth first.

The first of 132 four-quatrain poems is entitled “Hearsay” and the last is called “Heresy”—the book is framed by innuendo and the kind of lively satire that extends to folklore in the blues tradition. When Komunyakaa looks to nature, he configures his own paradigm, in which something as commonplace as the jewel wasp laying an egg in a cockroach is as grand as Zeus’s infidelity.

Author of eleven previous books, Komunyakaa has met his highest challenge to craft the lyric poems in Talking Dirty to the Gods. The compression of his sixteen-line form dictates an athletic use of language and generates truths past a poem’s dimension.

Book:Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule

Davis McCombs

Ultima Thule (pronounced “thool”) is the mythical farthest point north, the coldest and remotest spot on earth. It is also the name of the most inaccessble changer in Mammoth Cave, which McCombs brings to life in his poetry. The cave’s limestone formations and the underground river that carves its spaces make a sort of echo chamber for the heartbeats of the author and his friends and neighbors, of whose lives the immense but buried cave is the dominant feature and metaphor.

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