On September 13 the National Book Foundation announced the longlist
for the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, and the 10-title listing celebrates
not only a diverse group of American poets, but also ranks two debut
collections (Donika Kelly’s Bestiary,
and Look by Solmaz Sharif) alongside
those of veteran writers (like former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner
Rita Dove, and four-time National Book Award nominee Donald Hall). It’s an
honor any writer, emerging or seasoned, would love to have. And while not all
the NBA-nominated titles have hit bookstore shelves yet, there are enough in
print to keep you in reading material until the winners are announced (when you’ll
be able to snag the rest.)
Established in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association,
the National Book Award was originally open to any writer around the world — now
the NBA, which strives to "celebrate the best of American literature, to
expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in
America" is open to books written by U.S. authors and published in the
United States during the award year, writing in the genres of fiction, nonfiction,
and young people’s literature, in addition to poetry. For six of the last 10
years the National Book Award in Poetry has been awarded to women and/or
writers of color.
The five finalists for the National Book Award in Poetry will
be announced on October 13, and the winner will be announced on November 16
— in the meantime, be sure to check out the amazing collections that made
the NBA in Poetry longlist. Here are the 10 poetry collections that made the
National Book Award in Poetry longlist.
Daniel Borzutzky is a Chilean-American poet and fiction
writer whose writing tends to have a global and political — and often satirical
— focus. In addition to his own writing, Borzutzky has translated the writing
of Chilean poets for English-reading audiences. Out in April from Brooklyn Arts
Press, The Performance of Becoming Human
is Borzutzky at his finest — an edgy and sometimes-violent collection about how
politics destroy people, how systemic violence destroys communities, and how
humans are defined by the borders they face.
As a Pulitzer Prize and National Medal of Arts-winner (among
other notable awards) and the first African American to be appointed U.S. Poet
Laureate, Rita Dove is the writer to beat on this list. Her poetry often
includes meditations on other artistic mediums: dance, painting,
black-and-white photography. Collected
Poems: 1974-2004 features the best of Dove’s 30-plus-years and seven books
of award winning and worldview-altering poetry.
If you think narrative poet, essayist, and educator Peter Gizzi
invented the term “archeophonics” you might be right. Archeophonics is defined
as the archaeology of lost sound — but you won’t find it in any dictionary. (At
least, not any dictionary I consulted.) This collection explores Gizzi’s
understanding of the task of poetry — to explore the sound and shape of
language as it has existed across the spectrum of human history, and from there, to
discover what poetry means to us as a species.
Donald Hall is like the fine wine of poetry — he’s classic
and nostalgic and only gets better with time. As a four-time NBA nominee, and
one-time winner (1988) Hall is no stranger to the award. His poems tell stories
of regeneration and decay, of love and good-naturedness, of humor and
acceptance, and often feature explorations of nature and the environment. The Selected Poems of Donald Hall
features an expansive collection of some of this writer’s best work.
Jay Hopler is a Puerto Rican writer who has written his
second collection of poetry, The Abridged
History of Rainfall, as a series of melodies on love and loss in the wake
of the death of his father. Out November 15, from McSweeney’s The Abridged History of Rainfall is a
lyrical collection that will take you around the United States and Italy as
Hopler explores what it means to be left behind after a loss, and how humans confront
the tasks of the living.
Spend only a minute or two in Donika Kelly’s poetry, and you’ll
almost begin to feel your body moving along with the rhythm of her writing. Her
lines pound, and declare, and expose and challenge — and often explore the
gendered experiences of our world. One of the two debut collections on this
list, Donika Kelly’s Bestiary: Poems,
out November 1 by Graywolf Press, tells the story of the world through
creatures — particularly beasts: great animals and mythological monsters, as
well as the beasts that exist inside all human experience.
Jane Mead is the author of five collections of poetry,
including her latest: World of Made and
Unmade. Earthy and beautiful, homey and sad, and often touched with an
energy that is uniquely southern, the poems in this collection explore what it
looks like to die — what death means, what death teaches us about life, and
whether or not death is simply a long return home.
Solmaz Sharif is an Iranian-American poet who has already
made quite an imprint on the poetry scene. The second debut collection on this
list, another Graywolf Press title that was published earlier this summer, Look: Poems explores the reverberations
of how we go to war today — waging war against other countries, waging war with
ourselves, and even waging war against our own language and means of expressing
(or not) the inherent truths about our lives. Sharif uses words and phrases
from the Department of Defense Dictionary
of Military and Associated Terms in a way that is eerie and impersonal and
clinical — and devastating and haunting and must be rebelled against. Which is
why we write poetry.
Previously nominated for the National Book Award in Poetry,
Monica Youn is the author of three collections of poetry, including Blackacre: Poems, which explores
everything from racial identity to infertility. The collection is filled with
echoes from the darkest of fairy-tales — grim and bleak and haunting, Blackacre reads like the private
meditations of a girl lost in a woods she may never escape from.
Another writer previously nominated for a National Book Award,
Kevin Young’s poetry explores the intersection of verse with other art forms — paintings,
film noir, blues music. Blue Laws:
Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015 features two decades of Young’s
best poetry, and offers previously-unpublished pieces as well. Personal and
political, musical and infused with a sense of hometown hospitality, Young’s
poems are not to be missed.