Annal: 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2012.

Book:Useless Landscape or A Guide for Boys

Useless Landscape: or A Guide for Boys: Poems

D.A. Powell

In D.A. Powell’s fifth book of poetry, the rollicking line he has made his signature becomes the taut, more discursive means to describing beauty, singing a dirge, directing an ironic smile, or questioning who in any given setting is the instructor and who is the pupil. This is a book that explores the darker side of divisions and developments, which shows how the interstitial spaces of boonies, backstage, bathhouse, or bar are locations of desire. With Powell’s witty banter, emotional resolve, and powerful lyricism, this collection demonstrates his exhilarating range.

I have this rearrangement to make:
symbolic death, my backward glance.
The way the past is a kind of future
leaning against the sporty hood.
—from “Bugcatching at Twilight”
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:Fragile Acts (Allan Peterson)

Fragile Acts

Allan Peterson

The world is terrifying and exhilarating. Believing firmly in the romantic notion that “embellishment is love,” Allan Peterson in Fragile Acts combines the intellectual force of T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens, the ethereal wonder of Robert Hass, and the tight lyric beauty of Elizabeth Bishop and Donald Hall. These steely, wide-ranging poems are at once personal and philosophical, incisive and meditative—funny, serious, compassionate and searching.

Juxtaposing the fast pace of contemporary society with the quiet localism and naturalism of the great American transcendentalists, Peterson’s sinewy, muscular collection reveals a profoundly intelligent, curious mind leaping from object to thought to emotion. And yet, poem after poem, Peterson somehow binds seemingly unrelated elements into one stunning whole. You’ll nod your head in reflection one moment and laugh out loud the next. These moving poems are a profound delight to read. …[more]

Book:Olives: Poems

Olives: Poems

A.E. Stallings

A. E. Stallings has established herself as one of the best American poets of her generation. In addition to a lively dialogue with both the contemporary and ancient culture of her adopted homeland, Greece, this new collection features poems that, in her inimitable voice, address the joys and anxieties of marriage and motherhood. This collection builds on previous accomplishments with some longer poems and sequences of greater philosophical scope, such as “On Visiting a Borrowed Country House in Arcadia.” Stallings possesses the rare ability to craft precise poems that pulsate with deeply felt emotion. Like the olives of the title, the book embraces the bitter but savory fruits of the ancient tree, and the tears and sweetness we harvest in our temporary lives. These poems show Stallings in complete command of her talent, able to suggest the world in a word.

Book:On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths

On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths

Lucia Perillo

The poetry of Lucia Perillo is fierce, tragicomic, and contrarian, with subjects ranging from coyotes and Scotch broom to local elections and family history. Formally braided, Perillo gathers strands of the mythic and mundane, of media and daily life, as she faces the treachery of illness and draws readers into poems rich in image and story.

When you spend many hours alone in a room
you have more than the usual chances to disgust yourself—
this is the problem of the body, not that it is mortal
but that it is mortifying. When we were young they taught us
do not touch it, but who can keep from touching it,…[more]
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