Annal: 2012 National Book Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Award in the year 2012.

Book:Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations

Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations

David Ferry

To read David Ferry’s Bewilderment is to be reminded that poetry of the highest order can be made by the subtlest of means. The passionate nature and originality of Ferry’s prosodic daring works astonishing transformations that take your breath away. In poem after poem, his diction modulates beautifully between plainspoken high eloquence and colloquial vigor, making his distinctive speech one of the most interesting and ravishing achievements of the past half century. Ferry has fully realized both the potential for vocal expressiveness in his phrasing and the way his phrasing plays against—and with—his genius for metrical variation. His vocal phrasing thus becomes an amazingly flexible instrument of psychological and spiritual inquiry. Most poets write inside a very narrow range of experience and feeling, whether in free or metered verse. But Ferry’s use of meter tends to enhance the colloquial nature of his writing, while giving him access to an immense variety of feeling. Sometimes that feeling…[more]

Book:Fast Animal

Fast Animal

Tim Seibles

This collection by African American poet Tim Seibles explores a range of poetic form, including lyric, ode, narrative, and mystical. Like a “fast animal,” the poet’s voice can swiftly change direction and tone as he crisscrosses between present and past.

“Built like one single sustained song, Fast Animal is alive with music, ardor, and wit that flow in utterances that are uniquely [Seibles’] and his alone."—Laure-Anne Bosselaar, author of The Hour Between

It seems insane now, but
she’d be standing soaked
in schoolday morning light,…[more]
Book:Heavenly Bodies: Poems

Heavenly Bodies: Poems

Cynthia Huntington

In this blistering collection of lyric poems, Cynthia Huntington gives an intimate view of the sexual revolution and rebellion in a time before the rise of feminism. Heavenly Bodies is a testament to the duality of sex, the twin seductiveness and horror of drug addiction, and the social, political, and personal dramas of America in the 1960s.

From the sweetness of purloined blackberries to the bitter taste of pills, the ginger perfume of the Hawaiian Islands to the scream of the winter wind, Huntington’s fearless and candid poems offer a feast for the senses that is at once mystical and earthy, cynical and surreal. Echoing throughout are some of the most famous—and infamous—voices of the times: Joan Baez and Charles Manson, Frank Zappa and Betty Friedan. Jinns and aliens beckon while cities burn and revolutionaries thunder for change. At the center is the semiautobiographical Suzy Creamcheese, sensual and rebellious, both almighty and powerless in her sexuality. 

Achingly tender yet brutally honest, Heavenly Bodies is an unflinching reflection on the most personal of physical and emotional journeys.

Book:Meme: Poems

Meme: Poems

Susan Wheeler

Acclaimed poet Susan Wheeler, whose last individual collection predicted the spiritual losses of the economic collapse, turns her attention to the most intimate of subjects: the absence or loss of love. A meme is a unit of thought replicated by imitation; examples of memes, Richard Dawkins wrote, “are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” Occupy Wall Street is a meme, as are internet ideas and images that go viral. What could be more potent memes than those passed down by parents to their children? 

Wheeler reconstructs her mother’s voice—down to its cynicism and its mid twentieth-century midwestern vernacular—in “The Maud Poems,” a voice that takes a more aggressive, vituperative turn in “The Devil—or—The Introjects.” In the book’s third long sequence, a generational inheritance feeds cultural transmission in “The Split.” A set of variations on losses…[more]

Book:Night of the Republic: Poems

Night of the Republic: Poems

Alan Shapiro

An urgent and timely collection by one of America’s most inventive and accessible poets

In Night of the Republic, Alan Shapiro takes us on an unsettling night tour of America’s public places—a gas station restroom, shoe store, convention hall, and race track among others—and in stark Edward Hopper–like imagery reveals the surreal and dreamlike features of these familiar but empty night spaces. Shapiro finds in them not the expected alienation but rather an odd, companionable solitude rising up from the quiet emptiness.

In other poems, Shapiro writes movingly of his 1950s and 60s childhood in Brookline, Massachusetts, with special focus on the house he grew up in. These meditations, always inflected with Shapiro’s quick wit and humor, lead to recollections of tragic and haunting events such as the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of JFK. While Night of the Republic is Shapiro’s…[more]

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