Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

National Book Critics Circle Nominees - Poetry

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

National Book Critics Circle Nominees - Poetry

Article excerpt

Literary awards often reveal as much about the current trends in a genre as they do about which books are worthy of praise. Nominees usually hint at judges' preferences for style and form. But the finalists for this year's National Book Critics Circle Awards in poetry defy that generalization somewhat. The books in this diverse group share just one thing in common: a singular voice and vision. Each writer leads readers through a landscape only he or she could create. Think museum with five different hallways, no two of which intersect. Of the nominees, two are considered living legends who have left indelible marks on the genre during decades-long careers. One of those writers - Gary Snyder - broke a lengthy silence with the publication of his latest book. The three younger poets are all well respected.

All the finalists are invited to read from their nominated books at a gathering open to the public on March 17 at the New School in New York. The awards will be conferred the next day in the same auditorium. Reviews of the NBCC finalists in fiction, biography, and nonfiction can be found on our website. - Intro and reviews by Elizabeth Lund

The Orchard, by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, BOA Editions, 79 pp., $14.85

Kelly doesn't write simple poems; she weaves elaborate tapestries. Her work begins in the opening page of "The Orchard," her third collection, where she repeats certain words - boy, bird, bush - to establish a meditative tone that runs throughout the book. Subsequent pages explore those and other images, turning them round and round until they seem both familiar and strange. Kelly, who has a keen eye for detail, slowly adds layer upon layer of meaning, entwining various threads. She is driven, almost obsessive at times, in her desire to understand the world around her, which is often surreal and dreamlike. A boy may become a black swan or a doe may give birth to a child. The biggest delight in Kelly's work is the language, which is often quite sumptuous: "Big as a summer hotel, thirty rooms/ For thirty birds, thirty perches from which to sing. Such is the moon when it is full...." As strangely delightful as these poems can be, they are also dense and demanding. Small servings and multiple readings may be required.

Cocktails, by D.A. Powell, Graywolf, 66 pp., $14

Powell's third book is a smooth mixture of word play and memoir; three parts careful craftsmanship, one part witty banter, with occasional cultural references to add extra flavor. Many of these poems go down easy - despite their graphic subject matter - because Powell is so good at supplying tight, arresting turns of phrase. "Cocktails," like his previous collections, recounts his struggles, as a young gay man, with uncertainty, alcohol, and HIV. The work, which some may find disturbing, is broken into three sections: mixology, filmography, and bibliography. The second section seamlessly blends movie allusions with the poet's own memories. The result is a distinctive mix of individual and collective experience. But the third section, which plays off New Testament stories, is far less successful. There, the poet strains unsuccessfully for hints of redemption. The narratives and the Christian phrasing just don't mix effectively.

The School Among the Ruins, by Adrienne Rich, Norton, 114 pp. …

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