Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Awards in Poetry: What Do They Mean?

On October 12, I posted the list of National Book Award finalists here. For a challenge to what the award represents, see the highly noticed blog article by Ron Silliman here: http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/2007/10/word-about-naming.html
Here's an excerpt from Silliman's contentious essay:

This past week’s National Book Award nominations for poetry are a scandal that should get somebody fired, not so much for the poets who were chosen – most are credible examples of the same small school of writing – as for the selection of the panel who did the choosing. Charles Simic, Linda Bierds, David St. John, Vijay Seshadri, and Natasha Trethewey may be diverse in terms of gender, race, even age, but all five represent the same neophobe movement in American letters. There is not one post-avant, not one third-way, visual, slam or other kind of poet. Imagine a National Book Foundation panel that included, say, Jack Hirschman, Antler, Diane DiPrima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti & Janice Mirikitani, all poets associated in some way with the Beat scene, and that they chose a list of possible recipients that included Eileen Myles, David Meltzer, Jack Foley, Michael Rothenberg & Amiri Baraka. There would be howls of outrage, as there were in 1979 when the National Endowment for the Arts attempted to redress that agency’s historic neglect of “marked case poets” of all kinds all at once. If there are not screams & speeches before Congress at the output of this year’s panel, it’s not because the panel represents a broader spectrum of the world of poetry, but only because it represents that tiny sliver that fancies itself as being “just poets.” This panel’s selections reflect not only aesthetic sameness, but all are white, four are published by big trade presses, all but Ellen Bryant Voigt have Ph.D.’s and teach for a living. Voigt, obviously the rebel in this scene, got her MFA at Iowa City. Oh, she too teaches.¹ At 57, Linda Gregerson is the baby of the group. As a cross-section of American poetry, this doesn’t stretch even from A to B.

And for a little news from the opposite front, I note that Alice Notley has won this year's Lenore Marshall Award in Poetry, announced by the Academy of American Poets:



New York, October 3—The Academy of American poets is pleased to announce that Alice Notley's Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970–2005 (Wesleyan University Press) was chosen by poets David Baker, Mark McMorris, and Marie Ponsot to receive the 2007 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, which awards $25,000 to the most outstanding book of poetry published the previous year. The finalist for the award is David Wojahn for his collection Interrogation Palace (University of Pittsburgh Press).

About Notley's winning book, judge Marie Ponsot remarked:

These poems give us thirty-five years of political, personal, death-defying engagement. The nature Notley most loves is human nature. That urban passion propels her speculative dramas of gender, class, and race; of Vietnam and Iraq; of schemes of power and the claims of art. Ardent and agile, she is willing to cry out, to drift, to stammer, so as to put every turn of language to her use. Her aim is to speak to everyone; her book shows her success.

Alice Notley
A prominent member of the eclectic second generation of the New York School, Alice Notley has published over thirty volumes of poetry, including Disobedience, winner of the 2002 International Griffin Poetry Prize, The Descent of Alette; Selected Poems of Alice Notley; Waltzing Matilda; and Spring Comes, which received a 1982 San Francisco Poetry Award. Notley has won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Paris, where she edits the magazine Gare du Nord.

David Baker
The author of eight books of poetry, most recently Midwest Eclogue (W. W. Norton), as well as two critical books, Heresy and the Ideal: On Contemporary Poetry and Meter in English: A Critical Engagement, David Baker has received fellowships and awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mark McMorris
Mark McMorris's books include The Black Reeds winner of the Contemporary Poetry Series from Georgia University Press; and The Blaze of the Poui, which was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize. He has been published widely in magazines and anthologies and teaches at Georgetown University.

Marie Ponsot
Marie Ponsot has published numerous works, including Springing (Knopf); The Bird Catcher, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Green Dark; Admit Impediment; and True Minds. Among her awards are the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize was established in 1975 by the New Hope Foundation in memory of Lenore Marshall (1897–1971), a poet, novelist, essayist, and political activist. Lenore Marshall was the author of three novels, three books of poetry, a collection of short stories, and selections from her notebooks. Her work also appeared in The New Yorker, The Saturday Review, Partisan Review, and other literary magazines. In 1956 she helped found the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the citizens' organization that lobbied successfully for passage of the 1963 partial nuclear test ban treaty.

About the Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1934 to foster appreciation for contemporary poetry and to support American poets at all stages of their careers. For over three generations, the Academy has connected millions of people to great poetry through programs such as National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world; Poets.org, the most popular site about poetry on the web; the Poetry Audio Archive, capturing the voices of contemporary American poets for generations to come; American Poet, a biannual literary journal; and our annual series of poetry readings and special events. The Academy also awards prizes to accomplished poets at all stages of their careers—from hundreds of student prizes at colleges nationwide to the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement in the art of poetry.

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