Annal: 2009 National Book Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Award in the year 2009.

Book:Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy

Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy

Keith Waldrop

This compelling selection of recent work by internationally celebrated poet Keith Waldrop presents three related poem sequences—“Shipwreck in Haven,” “Falling in Love through a Description,” and “The Plummet of Vitruvius”—in a virtuosic poetic triptych. In these quasi-abstract, experimental lines, collaged words torn from their contexts take on new meanings. Waldrop, a longtime admirer of such artists as the French poet Raymond Queneau and the American painter Robert Motherwell, imposes a tonal override on purloined materials, yet the originals continue to show through. These powerful poems, at once metaphysical and personal, reconcile Waldrop’s romantic tendencies with formal experimentation, uniting poetry and philosophy and revealing him as a transcendentalist for the new millennium.

Book:Open Interval

]Open Interval[

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

Drawing upon intersections of astronomy and mathematics, history, literature, and lived experience, the poems in ]Open Interval[ locate the self in the interval between body and name.

Book:Or to Begin Again

Or to Begin Again

Ann Lauterbach

Ann Lauterbach’s ninth work of poetry, Or to Begin Again, takes its name from a sixteen-poem elegy that resists its own end, as it meditates on the nearness of specific attachment and loss against the mute background of historical forces in times of war. In the center of the book is a twelve-part narrative, “Alice in the Wasteland,”inspired by Lewis Carroll’s great character and T.S. Eliot’s 1922 modernist poem. Alice is accosted by an invisible Voice as she wanders and wonders about the nature of language in relation to perception. In this volume, Lauterbach again shows the range of her formal inventiveness, demonstrating the visual dynamics of the page in tandem with the powerful musical cadences and imagery of a contemporary master.

Book:Speak Low

Speak Low: Poems

Carl Phillips

Speak Low is the tenth book from one of America’s most distinctive—and one of poetry’s most essential—contemporary voices. Phillips has long been hailed for work provocative in its candor, uncompromising in its inquiry, and at once rigorous and innovative in its attention to craft. Over the course of nine critically acclaimed collections, he has generated a sustained meditation on the restless and ever-shifting myth of human identity. Desire and loss, mastery and subjugation, belief and doubt, sex, animal instinct, human reason: these are among the lenses through which Phillips examines what it means to be that most bewildering, irresolvable conundrum, a human being in the world.

These new poems are of a piece with Phillips’s previous work in their characteristic clarity and originality of thought, in their unsparing approach to morality and psychology, and in both the strength and startling flexibility of their line. Speak Low is the record of a powerful vision that, in its illumination of the human condition, has established itself as a necessary step toward our understanding of who we are in the twenty-first century.

Book:Versed

Versed

Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout has always organized her collections of poetry as though they were works in themselves. Versed brings two of these sequences together, offering readers an expanded view of the arc of her writing. The poems in the first section, Versed, play with vice and versa, the perversity of human consciousness. They flirt with error and delusion, skating on a thin ice that inevitably cracks: “Metaphor forms / a crust / beneath which / the crevasse of each experience.” Dark Matter, the second section, alludes to more than the unseen substance thought to make up the majority of mass in the universe. The invisible and unknowable are confronted directly as Armantrout’s experience with cancer marks these poems with a new austerity, shot through with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking. Together, the poems of Versed part us from our assumptions about reality, revealing the gaps and fissures in our emotional and linguistic constructs, showing us ourselves where we are most exposed.

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