Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Times has reported that the 9/11 Commission has been nominated for a National Book Award for its report on the attacks. Interesting choice. Looking at the nominees in poetry, I'm generally pleased: William Heyen, Donald Justice, Carl Phillips, Cole Swensen, and Jean Valentine. The last three are interesting poets, and I've actually read and gotten a lot of pleasure from Goest. Donald Justice I'm not so interested in, but one grand old man on the list is a lot better than five. I don't know anything about Heyen, but the NBA people are presenting him in a tone-deaf way: his book is called Shoah Train (itself on the verge of bad taste; Soul Train, anybody?) and its contents are described as "More than 70 new, unblinking poems inspired by the Holocaust." Inspired by? Eee-yucch.

I'd vote for Cole, if I had a vote; Valentine second (though maybe she deserves it more after such a long and varied career), and Phillips a distant third. Ah, prizes. Such a bizarre sort of economy the poetry world is. It's an alternative to the free market (and we desperately need such alternatives or our world is going to be all The Bachelor all the time) but a pretty weak one, appealing to private and obfuscated authorities rather than the masses. There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief.

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