Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Challenges of the National Book Award Short-List for Poetry

Liz Rosenberg's Boston Globe article from Sunday, "In the year's most honored poetry, language reinvented," presents an inside look at the poetry selection for the National Book Award.
Poetry's tools are many -- imagery, rhythm, sound play, story, character, silence, line breaks, surprise, and what Aristotle called the genius that cannot be taught: metaphor. Most poets, if they are being desperately honest, will admit that 90 percent of the poetry they read is offensively bad to them. A poet cannot be indifferent to poetry. One may avoid it. But poetry is too familial -- one tends with poetry books, as with one's family members, either to love or to hate them.

Five poetry books were finalists for the 2006 National Book Award -- which was won last month by Nathaniel Mackey for "Splay Anthem" -- and I think the selection was bewildering at best. It is worth noting that nine of the 10 poets chosen as finalists this year and last have been men . This makes one wonder not about the condition of women poets but rather about how and why such books are judged. The judges this year seemed not to be concerned with beauty or with feeling. Nor were they troubled by issues of clarity or accessibility.

These are only some of the qualities associated with contemporary poetry. They are by no means the only ones, nor are they, apparently, the most highly prized. All five of the books strike out on their own path, and away from what one might call the typical book of free-verse poems. All are passionately engaged in reinventing language.

Read the rest -- it's an interesting look at the state of American poetry and the poets favored by a few critics as our best and brightest.

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