Annal: 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2011.

Book:Space, in Chains

Space, in Chains

Laura Kasischke

Laura Kasischke’s poems have the same haunting qualities and truth as our most potent memories and dreams. Through ghostly voices, fragmented narratives, overheard conversations, songs, and prayers in language reminiscent of medieval lyrics converted into contemporary idiom, the poems in Space, In Chains create a visceral strangeness true to its own music.

So we found ourselves in an ancient place, the very
air around us bound by chains. There was
stagnant water in which lightning
was reflected, like desperation
in a dying eye. Like science. Like…[more]
Book:The Chameleon Couch

The Chameleon Couch: Poems

Yusef Komunyakaa

The latest collection from one of our preeminent poets, The Chameleon Couch is also one of Yusef Komunyakaa’s most personal to date. As in his breakthrough work, Copacetic, Komunyakaa writes again of music as muse—from a blues club in the East Village to the shakuhachi of Basho. Beginning with “Canticle,” this varied new collection often returns to the idea of poem as hymn, ethereal and haunting, as Komunyakaa reveals glimpses of memory, myth, and violence. With contemplations that spring up along walks or memories conjured by the rhythms of New York, Komunyakaa pays tribute more than ever before to those who came before him.

The book moves seamlessly across cultural and historical boundaries, evoking Komunyakaa’s capacity for cultural excavation, through artifact and place. The Chameleon Couch begins in and never fully leaves the present—an urban modernity framed,…[more]

Book:Core Samples from the World

Core Samples from the World

Forrest Gander

A gorgeous, wide-ranging volume of poetry and essays by Forrest Gander, studded with the work of three great photographers.

Forrest Gander’s Core Samples from the World is a magnificent compendium of poetry, photography, and essay (a form of Japanese haibun). Collaborating with three acclaimed photographers, Gander explores tensions between the familiar and foreign. His eloquent new work voices an ethical concern for others, exploring empathic relations in which the world itself is fundamental. Taking us around the globe to China, Mexico, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Chile, Core Samples shows how Gander’s “sharp sense of place has made him the most earthly of our avant-garde, the best geographer of fleshly sites since Olson” (Donald Revell, The Colorado Review). 20 black-and-white photographs

Book:Devotions (Bruce Smith)

Devotions

Bruce Smith

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.

Book:Kingdom Animalia: Poems

Kingdom Animalia: Poems

Aracelis Girmay

The poems in this highly anticipated second book are elegiac poems, as concerned with honoring our dead as they are with praising the living. Through Aracelis Girmay’s lens, everything is animal: the sea, a jukebox, the desert. In these poems, everything possesses a system of desire, hunger, a set of teeth, and language. These are poems about what is both difficult and beautiful about our time here on earth.

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