The winner will be announced November 20, 2019. In alphabetical order, here are the finalists for the NBA in poetry (my comments in italics):
Jericho Brown, “The Tradition” Copper Canyon Press. This might be my frontrunner. Brown works with passion, cultural layers (including biblical, Gospel music), and sheer lyricism. His work is inventive and moving, joining head and heart. From the publisher: “The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex―a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues―is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while reveling in a celebration of contradiction.”
Toi Derricotte, “I”: New and Selected Poems University of Pittsburgh Press. Derricotte is a master, a founder of the important Cave Canem, a fine poet. Her new book of selected and new poems shows a full range of an important career. From the publisher: “The story of Toi Derricotte is a hero’s odyssey. It is the journey of a poetic voice that in each book earns her way to home, to her own commanding powers. “I”: New and Selected Poems shows the reader both the closeness of the enemy and the poet’s inherent courage, inventiveness, and joy. It is a record of one woman’s response to the repressive and fracturing forces around the subjects of race, class, color, gender, and sexuality. Each poem is an act of victory, finding a path through repressive forces to speak with both beauty and truth.
This collection features more than thirty new poems as well as selections from five of Derricotte’s previously published books of poetry.”
Ilya Kaminsky, “Deaf Republic” Graywolf Press. Kaminsky brings reader’s into the 21st century of dictators, coded language, disability—places where readers enter into a new citizenship. This is important work, and this is a frontrunner for the award. From the publisher: “Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear—all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theater; and Galya’s girls, heroically teaching signs by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea—Ilya Kaminsky’s long-awaited Deaf Republic confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.”
Carmen Giménez Smith, “Be Recorder” Graywolf Press. This high-profile editor of Noemi Press, co-director for CantoMundo, Professor of English at Virginia Tech, and with Steph Burt poetry editor of The Nation is a powerhouse writer. Be ready to learn new pathways in your brain when you follow her inventions. From the publisher: “Be Recorder offers readers a blazing way forward into an as yet unmade world. The many times and tongues in these poems investigate the precariousness of personhood in lines that excoriate and sanctify. Carmen Giménez Smith turns the increasingly pressing urge to cry out into a dream of rebellion—against compromise, against inertia, against self-delusion, and against the ways the media dream up our complacency in an America that depends on it. This reckoning with self and nation demonstrates that who and where we are is as conditional as the fact of our compliance: “Miss America from sea to shining sea / the huddled masses have a question / there is one of you and all of us.” Be Recorder is unrepentant and unstoppable, and affirms Giménez Smith as one of our time’s most vital and vivacious poets.”
Arthur Sze, “Sight Lines” Copper Canyon Press. Sze taught many years at Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a fine, fine poet in addition to his role of mentor. His Chinese American perspective gives him layers that make this a very global and very 21st century American book. From the publisher: “From the current phenomenon of drawing calligraphy with water in public parks in China to Thomas Jefferson laying out dinosaur bones on the White House floor, from the last sighting of the axolotl to a man who stops building plutonium triggers, Sight Lines moves through space and time and brings the disparate and divergent into stunning and meaningful focus. In this new work, Arthur Sze employs a wide range of voices―from lichen on a ceiling to a man behind on his rent―and his mythic imagination continually evokes how humans are endangering the planet; yet, balancing rigor with passion, he seizes the significant and luminous and transforms these moments into riveting and enduring poetry.”
JUDGES FOR THE NBA-POETRY (from the NBA website):
Jos Charles is the author of feeld, winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series and Longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, and Safe Space. She is a recipient of the 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. Charles has an MFA from the University of Arizona and is pursuing a PhD in English from UC Irvine.
John Evans is an owner of DIESEL, A Bookstore in Los Angeles. He has been a board member of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Association. He has been a judge for the CLMP Firestarter Award for Poetry, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Poetry, the ABA’s Indies Choice Book Award, and other awards. He is also a poet and has an M.A. in Poetics from New College of California.
Vievee Francis is the author of three books of poetry: Blue-Tail Fly, Horse in the Dark (winner of the Cave Canem Northwestern University Poetry Prize for a second collection), and Forest Primeval (winner of the Hurston Wright Legacy Award and the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award). Her work has appeared in numerous print and online journals, textbooks, and anthologies, including Poetry, Best American Poetry 2010, 2014, 2017, 2019 and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. In 2009 she received a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, and in 2010, a Kresge Fellowship. She has been a participant in the Cave Canem Workshops, a Poet-in-Residence for the Alice Lloyd Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, and teaches poetry writing in numerous modes and venues including the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop (USA, UK, Caribbean). Francis serves as an associate editor for Callaloo and is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
Cathy Park Hong‘s latest poetry collection, Engine Empire, was published in 2012. Her other collections include Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo’um. Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in Poetry, A Public Space, Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Baffler, Boston Review, The Nation, and other journals. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and is a professor at Rutgers-Newark University. Her book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings, will be published by One World/Random House in Spring 2020.
Chair – Mark Wunderlich is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent of which is God of Nothingness, forthcoming from Graywolf Press. His other collections include The Earth Avails, which received the Rilke Prize, Voluntary Servitude, and The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and elsewhere, and his poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New Republic, Poetry, The Paris Review, and have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. He is the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars graduate writing program and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.