Friday, October 14, 2011

Five Poets Vie for National Book Award


The National Book Awards announced the finalists in all its categories this week and the five authors competing for the poetry award are Nikky Finney, Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, Adrienne Rich and Bruce Smith. Elizabeth Alexander leads a panel of judges who will decide on the best volume of poetry for the year. The Awards gives writers and poets in particular an extra boost of exposure heading into the Christmas book buying season.

The poems in Nikky Finney's fourth collection, Head Off & Split, sustain a sensitive and intense dialogue with emblematic figures and events in African-American life: from Civil Rights matriarch Rosa Parks, to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, from a brazen girl strung out on lightning, to a terrified woman abandoned on a rooftop during Hurricane Katrina.

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.

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, Double Shadow, examines the double shadow that a life casts forth.

Adrienne Rich has said, “I believe almost everything I know, have come to understand, is somewhere in this book.” That book is, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010.

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.

Poet John Ashbery will receive the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, to be presented by poet Ann Lauterbach at the National Book Awards in New York City on November 16 when the winning title in the poetry category will be announced.