Honor roll: National Book Award for Poetry

Each of these books has been nominated for a National Book Award for Poetry. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:My Alexandria

My Alexandria: Poems

Mark Doty

One of the most highly praised and touching collections of poems to appear in recent years. In selecting it for the National Poetry Series, Philip Levine said: “The courage of this book is that it looks away from nothing: the miracle is that wherever it looks it finds poetry… Mark Doty is a maker of big, risky, fearless poems in which ordinary human experience becomes music.”

Book:An Atlas of the Difficult World

An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991

Adrienne Rich

“This is no place you ever knew me,” writes Adrienne Rich in her major new work, “…These are not the roads/you knew me by.” As always in her forty-year career, this major poet has mapped out new territory , astonishing and enlightening us with her penetrating insight into our lives amid the beauties and cruelties of our difficult world.

Book:Desire

Desire: Poems

Frank Bidart

I hate and—love. The sleepless body hammering a nail nails itself, hanging crucified.—from “Catullus: Excrucior”

In Frank Bidart’s collection of poems, the encounter with desire is the encounter with destiny. The first half contains some of Bidart’s most luminous and intimate work-poems about the art of writing, Eros, and the desolations and mirror of history (in a spectacular narrative based on Tacitus). The second half of the book exts the overt lyricism of the opening section into even more ambitious territory-”The Second Hour of the Night” may be Bidart’s most profound and complex meditation on the illusion of will, his most seductive dramatic poem to date.

Book:One with Others

One with Others

C.D. Wright

Investigative journalism is the poet’s realm when C.D. Wright returns to her native Arkansas and examines an explosive incident from the Civil Rights movement. Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, newspaper accounts, and personal memories—especially those of her incandescent mentor, Mrs. Vititow—with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, activists, and black students who were rounded up and detained in an empty public swimming pool. This history leaps howling off the page.

I can walk down the highway unarmed
Scott Bond, born a slave, became
a millionaire. Wouldn’t you like to run wild.
Run free. The Very Reverend Al Green…[more]
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.

Book:Repair

Repair: Poems

C.K. Williams

Repair is body work in C. K. Williams’s sensual poems, but it is also an imaginative treatment of the consternations that interrupt life’s easy narrative. National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Williams keeps the self in repair despite love, death, social disorder, and the secrets that separate and join intimates. These forty poems experiment with form but maintain what Alan Williamson has heralded Williams for having so steadily developed from French influences: “the poetry of the sentence.”

Book:Watching the Spring Festival

Watching the Spring Festival: Poems

Frank Bidart

This is Frank Bidart’s first book of lyrics—his first book not dominated by long poems. Narrative elaboration becomes speed and song. Less embattled than earlier work, less actively violent, these new poems have, by conceding time’s finalities and triumphs, acquired a dark radiance unlike anything seen before in Bidart’s long career.

Mortality—imminent, not theoretical—forces the self to question the relation between the actual life lived and what was once the promise of transformation. This plays out against a broad landscape. The book opens with Marilyn Monroe, followed by the glamour of the eighth-century Chinese imperial court (seen through the eyes of one of China’s greatest poets, Tu Fu). At the center of the book is an ambitious meditation on the Russian ballerina Ulanova, Giselle, and the nature of tragedy. All this gives new dimension and poignance to Bidart’s recurring preoccupation with the human need to leave behind some record or emblem,…[more]

Book:The Wild Iris

The Wild Iris

Louise Glück

The Wild Iris was written during a ten-week period in the summer of 1991. Louise Cluck’s first four collections consistently returned to the natural world, to the classical and biblical narratives that arose to explain the phenomena of this world, to provide meaning and to console. Ararat, her fifth book, offered a substitution for the received: a demotic, particularized myth of contemporary family. Now in The Wild Iris, her most important and accomplished collection to date, ecstatic imagination supplants both empiricism and tradition, creating an impassioned polyphonic exchange among the god who “disclose[s]/virtually nothing,” human beings who “leave/signs of feeling/everywhere,” and a garden where “whatever/returns from oblivion returns/ to find a voice.” The poems of this sequence see beyond mortality, the bitter discovery on which individuality depends. “To be one thing/is to be next to nothing,” Cluck challenges the reader. “Is it enough/only to look inward?” A major…[more]

Book:Time and Materials

Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005

Robert Hass

The poems in Robert Hass’s new collection—his first to appear in a decade—are grounded in the beauty and energy of the physical world, and in the bafflement of the present moment in American culture. This work is breathtakingly immediate, stylistically varied, redemptive, and wise.

His familiar landscapes are here—San Francisco, the Northern California coast, the Sierra high country—in addition to some of his oft-explored themes: art; the natural world; the nature of desire; the violence of history; the power and limits of language; and, as in his other books, domestic life and the conversation between men and women. New themes emerge as well, perhaps: the essence of memory and of time.

The works here look at paintings, at Gerhard Richter as well as Vermeer, and pay tribute to his particular literary masters,…[more]

Book:Garbage

Garbage: A Poem

A.R. Ammons

In his first book of new poetry since Sumerian Vistas (1987), A. R. Ammons, one of America’s greatest living poets, uses an unlikely subject - garbage - as the occasion for a profound and often funny meditation on nature and mutability. Driving along I-95 in Florida the poet sights a smoldering mountain of the stuff and is moved to muse: “garbage has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual, believable enough to get our attention, getting in the way, piling up, stinking, turning brooks brownish and / creamy white: what else deflects us from the / errors of our illusionary ways…” Ammons proceeds to evoke with his unique blend of intellectual rigor and American sublimity the impersonal beauties of natural processes both microscopic and cosmic, including ruefully amusing observations on the vagaries of aging. He asks what place poetry and language might have in this vast system and finds startling correspondences: “our language is something to write home about; / but it is not the world: grooming…[more]

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