Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2011.
Comparing any human life to “a restless choir” of impulses variously in conflict and at peace with one another, Carl Phillips, in his eleventh book, examines the double shadow that a life casts forth: “now risk, and now / faintheartedness.” In poems that both embody and inhabit this double shadow, risk and faintheartedness prove to have the power equally to rescue us from ourselves and to destroy us. Spare, haunted, and haunting, yet not without hope, Double Shadow argues for life as a wilderness through which there’s only the questing forward—with no regrets and no looking back.
In the hands of Bruce Smith, devotions are momentary stops to listen to the motor of history. They are meditations and provocations. They are messages received from the chatter of the street and from transmissions as distant as Memphis and al-Mansur. Bulletins and interruptions come from brutal elsewheres and from the interior where music puts electrodes on the body to take an EKG. These poems visit high schools, laundromats, motels, films, and dreams in order to measure the American hunger and thirst. They are interested in the things we profess to hold most dear as well as what’s unspoken and unbidden. While we’re driving, while riding a bus, while receiving a call, while passing through an X-ray machine, the personal is intersected—sometimes violently, sometimes tenderly—with the hum and buzz of the culture. The culture, whether New York or Tuscaloosa, Seattle or Philadelphia, past or present, carries the burden of race and “someone’s idea of beauty.” The poems fluctuate between the two poles of “lullaby and homicide” before taking a vow to remain on earth, to look right and left, to wait and to witness.
This stunning second collection engages the “disciplines” associated with regimes of powers and sadomasochism. The work interrogates the social and linguistic space between regimes of power enacted on the body, and thereby the soul.
The Public Gardens: Poems and History is a memoir of place (Boston, New York, Oakland and San Francisco) and of the commons (gardens, streets, subways, marriage and family, libraries), a documentary (with lyrics) of a life lived in, around, and for books.
Jim Harrison’s compelling and provocative Songs of Unreason explores what it means to inhabit the world in atavistic, primitive, and totemistic ways. “This can be disturbing to the learned,” Harrison admits. Using interconnected suites, brief lyrics, and rollicking narratives, Harrison’s passions and concerns—creeks, thickets, time’s effervescence, familial love—emerge by turns painful and celebratory, localized and exiled.