Annal: 2008 National Book Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Award in the year 2008.

Book:Fire to Fire

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems

Mark Doty

Mark Doty’s Fire to Fire collects the best of Mark Doty’s seven books of poetry, along with a generous selection of new work. Doty’s subjects—our mortal situation, the evanescent beauty of the world, desire’s transformative power, and art’s ability to give shape to human lives—echo and develop across twenty years of poems. His signature style encompasses both the plainspoken and the artfully wrought; here one of contemporary American poetry’s most lauded, recognizable voices speaks to the crises and possibilities of our times.

Book:Blood Dazzler

Blood Dazzler: Poems

Patricia Smith

In minute-by-minute detail, Patricia Smith tracks Hurricane Katrina as it transforms into a full-blown mistress of destruction. From August 23, 2005, the day Tropical Depression Twelve developed, through August 28 when it became a Category Five storm with its “scarlet glare fixed on the trembling crescent,” to the heartbreaking aftermath, these poems evoke the horror that unfolded in New Orleans as America watched it on television.

Assuming the voices of flailing politicians, the dying, their survivors, and the voice of the hurricane itself, Smith follows the woefully inadequate relief effort and stands witness to families held captive on rooftops and in the Superdome. She gives voice to the thirty-four nursing home residents who drowned in St. Bernard Parish and recalls the day after their deaths when George W. Bush accompanied country singer Mark Willis on guitar: …[more]

Book:Creatures of a Day

Creatures of a Day: Poems

Reginald Gibbons

In Creatures of a Day, Reginald Gibbons presents intense encounters with everyday people amidst the historical and social contexts of everyday life. His poems are meditations on memory, obligation, love, death, celebration, and sorrow. Some of them show how the making of poetry itself seems inextricably enmeshed with personal encounter and with history. This new collection includes five odes woven from interactions with others, thirteen shorter poems, and “Fern-Texts,” a kind of biographical and autobiographical essay in syllabic verse on the parallel decades of the English 1790s and the American 1960s. Using quotations from the notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Fern-Texts” interweaves the dilemmas of love, ethics, and political engagement in Coleridge’s life when he was in his twenties and in the poet’s own life when, at the same age, he lived in California.

Ranging from poems of witness to paradoxical speculations, from the personal intimacy of love and death to the broad scope of historical turmoil, Creatures of a Day is an unusual, powerful collection.

Book:Watching the Spring Festival

Watching the Spring Festival: Poems

Frank Bidart

This is Frank Bidart’s first book of lyrics—his first book not dominated by long poems. Narrative elaboration becomes speed and song. Less embattled than earlier work, less actively violent, these new poems have, by conceding time’s finalities and triumphs, acquired a dark radiance unlike anything seen before in Bidart’s long career.

Mortality—imminent, not theoretical—forces the self to question the relation between the actual life lived and what was once the promise of transformation. This plays out against a broad landscape. The book opens with Marilyn Monroe, followed by the glamour of the eighth-century Chinese imperial court (seen through the eyes of one of China’s greatest poets, Tu Fu). At the center of the book is an ambitious meditation on the Russian ballerina Ulanova, Giselle, and the nature of tragedy. All this gives new dimension and poignance to Bidart’s recurring preoccupation with the human need to leave behind some record or emblem,…[more]

Book:Without Saying

Without Saying: New Poems

Richard Howard

In Richard Howard’s new collection, voices of myth and memory prevail, if only by means of prevarication: the voice of Medea’s mother trying to explain her daughter’s odd behavior to an indiscreet interviewer; or first and last the voice of Henry James, late in life, faced with the disputed prospect of meeting L. Frank Baum and then, later on, “managing” not only Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird but his own unruly cast of characters, including Mrs. Wharton and young Hugh Walpole.

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