Monday, March 12, 2007

National Book Critics Circle Poetry Award

Troy Jollimore won the poetry award this year, with a long narrative poem about a character "Tom Thomson." Thomson is an Everyman struggling with vicissitudes of 21st century life. Jollimore's research and teaching concern ethics, political philosophy, and literature. He directs the Humanities Center at Cal.State Univ.-Chico. He is a visiting faculty fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center this academic year. In my recent travels to Chico I was scheduled to see him read, but got lost on the way to the campus.

My sister Jane Ciabattari, vice president of the NBCC board, says he gave a very wonderful reading at the finalists' reception and charmed the audience greatly. My friends Sally and Scott McNall of Chico report great confidence in his abilities.

I would note that this selection emphasizes my belief that poets need to have as deep and wide an education as possible--either inside or outside the academy. Poetry is about synthesis of cultural, historical, arts, science, and technological knowledge, and all we interact with as humans. Poets, through well chosen words, help digest the strands of experience into something manageable. Poetry is about cultural survival, a serious business, formed from the lyrical personal encounter.

by Troy Jollimore

Tom Thomson in Hiding

Trusts himself less, but more than others do;

when he an elevator boards, they stand

off to one side and keep an eye on him,

suspicious-like; when he picks up a phone

a little click lets him know someone else

is listening, too. Meanwhile, spy satellites

fly so low overhead they almost graze

and take away a layer of his skin.

He therefore cringes, hunches, don't look up,

contemplates fake moustaches and dark shades,

scurries from house to car, inside whose tin

and plastic shell he feels less vulnerable.

There is a war afoot: Intelligence

versus intelligentsia. This he knows.

Tom Thomson in Love

Love pushed him sidewise through the bleary nights.

It flew at him like storms. He tried to learn

to overcome, to do without, but could,

he found, not; nor cigarettes, neither. He stuck

to them like glue. Opinions stuck to him

and drugged him down into the muck. Always asked he

what lay so deep down there – well now he knows:

it's him – it's he himself, goes down so far

and lies at bottom and takes not one breath

all winter, like a turtle. Him, who looks

upward through bottoms of glass-bottomed boats

and so on into sky, sky up as he is down,

sky blue as he, and free as he is not.

People say "My friend" to him, but just ironically.