Friday, March 24, 2023

Cynthia Cruz wins the 2023 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

NBCC Poetry Prize winner Cynthia Cruz writes poetry and essays. Her poem “The Undersong” (2016) states an aspect of her poetics as it begins, 

“But whose voice will enter/ and what will I do/ with that brutal but beautiful music.” It continues,

In the city, from my hotel window

I can see the elements and trace.

Structures constructed to protect the mind

and the gorgeous culture of the body.

In the park nearby, at dusk.

With plastic transistor radio

and magnetic apparatus,

so small they fit into the palm

of my hand.

The first-person narrator grieves—for what is not clear, beyond a generalized ennui within urban disconnections. The “hotel window” viewpoint is one of a homeless person, even if the perch in a hotel is temporary. The music, like poetry itself, strives to “protect the mind” as it appeals to the corporeal senses. All of the moment is a self-contained vignette, fitting “into the palm/ of my hand.” Yet it also opens out into a shared condition, an “Undersong” that most may not hear as its sadness plays below conscious awareness. This concise lyric has its own music as it creates unexpected pangs in the listener/reader--myself.

Cruz grew up in Northern California, a major influence, she explains in an interview with Paul Rowe: “I grew up in a small town in rural Northern California—there were hawks, rabbits, snakes. We had animals and acres and I spent most of my girlhood outdoors chasing these creatures. In the long driveway were cars and the carcasses of cars, engines and pieces. So, there’s that—that landscape shaped me, made me who I am.” In her interview with she continues to explain her early experiences as invisible to those middle class readers without a similar background (of poverty, working class culture) but omnipresent, as “an interior or a flight to an externalized interior: someplace away from the slick and sleek exteriors of the Neoliberal city and suburbs and all that these places require” (interview with Paul Rowe, Minor Literature[s]). 

Denise Low, 2023

Cynthia Cruz won the 2023 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry with Hotel Oblivion (Four Way Books, 2022). She is the author of four other collections of poetry, including three with Four Way Books: How the End Begins (2016),  Wunderkammer (2014), The Glimmering Room;  and Ruin (Alice James, 2006). She has published poems in numerous literary journals and magazines, including the New YorkerKenyon Review, the Paris ReviewBOMB, and the Boston Review. She is the editor of an anthology of Latina poetry, Other Musics: New Latina Poetry (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019). She also publishes essays: Disquieting: Essays on Silence, critical essays exploring silence as a form of resistance (Book*hug, 2019) and The Melancholia of Class (Repeater Books, 2021). Cruz has received fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. Cruz grew up in Northern California, where she earned her BA at Mills College. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in writing and an MFA in Art Criticism & Writing from the School of Visual Arts. Cruz is currently pursuing a PhD in German Studies at Rutgers University. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Four Way Books: Four Way Books » Cynthia Cruz Author Page

Poem Hunter: Cynthia Cruz Poems - Poems by Cynthia Cruz (

Poetry Foundation bio, poems, prose: Cynthia Cruz | Poetry Foundation

Video reading of “Silence”: Cynthia Cruz reads “Silencer” - Ours Poetica | Poetry Foundation

Academy of American Poets: About Cynthia Cruz | Academy of American Poets