Annal: 2002 National Book Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Award in the year 2002.

Book:In the Next Galaxy

In the Next Galaxy

Ruth Stone

At eighty-six, Ruth Stone is considered “Mother Poet” to many contemporary writers. In this, her eighth volume, she continues her long practice of piercing directly to life’s poetic truth. She writes with a crackling intelligence, interrogating history from the vantage point of an aging and impoverished woman. Wise, sardonic, crafty, and misleadingly simple, Stone loves heavy themes but loathes heavy poems.

Book:Leaving Saturn

Leaving Saturn: Poems

Major Jackson

Leaving Saturn, chosen by Al Young as the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, is an ambitious and honest collection. Major Jackson, through both formal and free verse poems, renders visible the spirit of resilience, courage, and creativity he witnessed among his family, neighbors, and friends while growing up in Philadelphia. His poems hauntingly reflect urban decay and violence, yet at the same time they rejoice in the sustaining power of music and the potency of community. Jackson also honors artists who have served as models of resistance and maintained their own faith in the belief of the imagination to alter lives. The title poem, a dramatic monologue in the voice of the American jazz composer and bandleader Sun Ra, details such a humane program and serves as an admirable tribute to the tradition of African American art. Throughout, Jackson unflinchingly portrays our most devastated landscapes, yet with a vividness and compassion that expose the depth of his imaginative powers.

Major Jackson is a professor of English at Xavier University of Louisiana.

Book:Shadow of Heaven

Shadow of Heaven: Poems

Ellen Bryant Voigt

Following her stringent and much-acclaimed Kyrie, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Ellen Bryant Voigt now examines more intimately the ordeals and exaltations of everyday life. Nature, both fierce and benign, infuses this collection, furthering “an art at once ravishing and stern and deeply human” (American Academy of Arts and Letters)

Book:Sleeping With the Dictionary

Sleeping With the Dictionary

Harryette Romell Mullen

Harryette Mullen’s fifth poetry collection, Sleeping with the Dictionary, is the abecedarian offspring of her collaboration with two of the poet’s most seductive writing partners, Roget’s Thesaurus and The American Heritage Dictionary. In her ménage à trois with these faithful companions, the poet is aware that while Roget seems obsessed with categories and hierarchies, the American Heritage, whatever its faults, was compiled with the assistance of a democratic usage panel that included black poets Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, as well as feminist author and editor Gloria Steinem. With its arbitrary yet determinant alphabetical arrangement, its gleeful pursuit of the ludic pleasure of word games (acrostic, anagram, homophone, parody, pun), as well as its reflections on the politics of language and dialect, Mullen’s work is serious play. A number of the poems are inspired or influenced by a technique of the international literary avant-garde group Oulipo, a dictionary game called S+7 or N+7. This method…[more]

Book:The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body

The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body

Alberto Ríos

In a town that straddles the border of Mexico and Arizona, Alberto Ríos explains the world not through reason but magic. Carving poems from fable, parable, and family legend, Ríos utilizes the intense and supple imagination of childhood to find and preserve history beyond facts: plastic lemons turning into baseballs, a grandmother’s long hair reaching up to save her life.

Book:The Unswept Room

The Unswept Room

Sharon Olds

From Sharon Olds—a stunning new collection of poems that project a fresh spirit, a startling energy of language and counterpoint, and a moving, elegiac tone shot through with humor.

From poems that erupt out of history and childhood to those that embody the nurturing of a new generation of children and the transformative power of marital love, Sharon Olds takes risks, writing boldly of physical, emotional, and spiritual sensations that are seldom the stuff of poetry.

These are poems that strike for the heart, as Sharon Olds captures our imagination with unexpected wordplay, sprung rhythms, and the disquieting revelations of ordinary life. Writing at the peak of her powers, this greatly admired poet gives us her finest collection.

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