Results of the Pulitzer Prize in the year 2006.
In Late Wife, a woman explores her disappearance from one life and reappearance in another as she addresses her former husband, herself, and her new husband in a series of epistolary poems. Though not satisfied in her first marriage, she laments vanishing from the life she and her husband shared for years. She then describes the unexpected joys of solitude during her recovery and emotional convalescence. Finally, in a sequence of sonnets, she speaks to her new husband, whose first wife died from lung cancer. The poems highlight how the speaker’s rebeginning in this relationship has come about in part because of two couples’ respective losses.
The most personal of Claudia Emerson’s poetry collections, Late Wife is both an elegy and a celebration of a rich present informed by a complex past.
In her fourth remarkable collection, Elizabeth Alexander voices the outcries, dreams, and histories of an African American tradition that goes back to the slave rebellion on the Amistad and to the artists’ canvases of nineteenth-century America. In persona poems, historical narratives, jazz riffs, sonnets, elegies, and a sequence of ars poetica, American Sublime is Alexander’s most vivid and varied collection and affirms her place as one of America’s most lively and gifted writers.
In Elegy on Toy Piano, Dean Young’s sixth book of poems, elegiac necessity finds itself next to goofy celebration. Daffy Duck enters the Valley of the Eternals. Faulkner and bell-bottoms cling to beauty’s evanescence.
Even in single poems, Young’s tone and style vary. No one feeling or idea takes precedence over another, and their simultaneity is frequently revealed; sadness may throw a squirrelly shadow, joy can find itself dressed in mourning black. As in the agitated “Whirlpool Suite”: “Pain / and pleasure are two signals carried / over one phoneline.”
In taking up subjects as slight as the examination of a signature or a true/false test, and as pressing as the death of friends, Young’s poems embrace the duplicity of feeling, the malleability of perception, and the truth telling of wordplay.