Friday, November 9, 2012

Poetry Finalists for the 2012 National Book Award

I had the opportunity to read all the poetry nominated for the National Book Award this year prior to the award being announced.  After Nikki Finney won last year's award for Head Off and Split, my favorite volume of last year's nominees, I decided to keep up with poetry for this award even before novels.  (Novel count - almost done with 2 out of the 5.)

This year's nominees include quite a few well-known poets, at least two in the late decades of their careers.  I personally don't care how long a person's career is; I'm looking at what kinds of poems are written, what the subjects are, and how they make me feel.  To cut down on clutter, I'm not linking to any of the titles throughout the text, but you can click on the cover images at the top of this post.

Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations by David Ferry

This volume is a combination of David Ferry's own recent work, including several poems that are responses to other poems, as well as his translations of works from the ancient world.  Highlights for me were "That Now Are Wild and Do Not Remember," clearly an homage to Thomas Wyatt.  I also loved In the Reading Room, which you can read online at the Poetry Foundation

The response poems are my least favorite, however I love the last stanza of "Reading Arthur Gold's Poem 'Chest Cancer:'"
In our consenting, by the ways we spend
Our days obeying the laws of how things are,
We deliver each other up unto the God
Until one day no Ram is caught in the thicket.

Meme by Susan Wheeler

Three very different sections make up this volume. In "The Maud Poems," each page sticks a mini four-line poem into something that feels like a conversation between a harried mother/wife and the people in her house. In "The Devil - or - The Introjects" - these are tiny poems, sometimes just thoughts in passing. In "The Split," it is hard to tell if each page is a poem, or if the entire thing is one long meandering poem moving through different styles and techniques.

Fast Animal by Tim Seibles

It is evident from these poems that Tim Seibles has had a full life. I wasn't surprised to find that this is his eighth book of poems because so many inside this volume are what I would call memory poems - girls he had crushes on, friendships that have survived adulthood, etc. There are also some entertaining villanelles and a surprising number of well-fashioned rhyming poems. Hardly anyone writes rhyming poems anymore, but they really work here.

The poems I connected with the most have to do with politics, particularly considering the current political climate (we are about two weeks from election day!). Tim Seibles does not mince words particularly when it comes to his disregard for particular politicians. "Vendetta 2006" is really great:
"...I have held
my rage on a short
leash like a good,
mad dog whose bright

teeth could keep
the faces of our enemies
well lit...."

Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro

"Not my style" is the best summary I can give Shapiro's work. It feels like the poet walked around town one night and wrote a poem about each place he saw. His structures are overly limiting with little variety between them, and it makes for pretty dry reading. The poems seem to imagine the possibilities of actual events at each place, instead of digging into emotions or memory.

Heavenly Bodies by Cynthia Huntington

Cynthia Huntington is a genius. Reading this tiny volume was accompanied by little exclamations and repeated insistence on reading bits out loud to people who don't really get poetry to begin with, followed by the distinct sorrow of understanding that THIS is greatness and nothing I write will come close.  The poems are divided into three sections. The first section is devoid of health and full of hospital stays, medications, and addiction. There is also a sense of a lack of control over how life is, particularly as a woman. That you have to come up with ways to cope, rather than ever have hope to change it. This comes through in Delinquent, and the creatively-titled "Bride of the Barbiturate?"

Section II has "Shot Up in the Sexual Revolution: The True Adventures of Suzy Creamcheese." I'd buy this volume just to own this poem. Amazing. I can't pull out one bit of it. Okay maybe a bit from 7.:
"Oh, I admit you were beautiful to me, each dog-faced man-child,
steaming with revolution, and the absolute confidence
of sexual privelege...."

Section III focuses on fantastic beings and places, and ends with a poem called "Cut Flowers" that I really loved.  She would be my favorite to win the award.

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