Handicapping the BTBA Poetry Field [Last Thoughts]

Sorry for the posting snafu yesterday . . . I somehow managed to leave the second part of the fiction preview on “draft,” so it didn’t go live until midnightish . . .

Anyway, today we’ll go over the five poetry books that are up for the 2011 BTBA. I’m admittedly not nearly as knowledgeable about poetry as I am about fiction, so what I think I’ll do is quote from the “Why This Book Should Win” pieces and base my odds on how convincing the praise is . . .

Here goes:

Geometries by Guillevic, translated from the French by Richard Sieburth (Ugly Duckling Presse) (Why This Book Should Win)

“The cover of the collection says that these poems were “Englished” by Richard Sieburth. They are indeed. Sieburth captures in English the specific spokenness of the poems, their philosophical wit, their pathos (who would have thought shapes could have pathos!), without losing a sense of the inherent playfulness of the project. These shapes are foreign mirrors—yet astounding mirrors nonetheless. These poems are part game, part serious seriousness, and Sieburth stealthily draws the poems down that line into a wonderfully pleasing feeling that something true has been discovered in the oddest of ways.”—Jennifer Kronovet

Love the idea of this book, the fact that it wasn’t translated but “Englished” and that Ugly Duckling Presse is back in the finalists: 3-to-1.

Time of Sky & Castles in the Air by Ayane Kawata, translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu (Litmus Press) (Why This Book Should Win)

“Not all of them are about blood and veins blowing up, but the sky is a threat in many of these poems, a violent imposition on life, body and nature. The distant blue that is too bright, and cut up, and ominous and penetrating and rupturing, is a spectacularly original feat of imagination. [. . .] Castles in the Air, published in Japanese in 1991, is a dream journal presented as prose poems, and operates within its own hybrid rationale. Operating within a familiar dream-logic, these poems are at once unbearably personal, shamelessly intimate, and frankly grotesque. They unflinchingly reveal the subconscious monstrosity of the speaker, but so bluntly, so unapologetically that the reader too is implicated by the assumed understanding in the tone. These are dreams we all have had, in one way or another, and so no embarrassment is necessary.”—Erica Mena

I would love to see a two-time winner of the BTBA (Sawako Nakayasu won a couple years back), and this does sound monstrously beautiful: 7-to-1.

Child of Nature by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated from the Albanian by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi (New Directions) (Why This Book Should Win)

“Case in point, the poem ‘Monday in Seven Days,’ a longish serial poem of ten parts, which I’m only going to quote once because otherwise the whole thing is going to wind up in what is supposed to be a brief review:

Preparing for winter
isn’t tradition, but instinct. We hurl our spare anxieties
like precious cargo from a shipwreck.

Read that again. If you don’t see on your own how good it is, how truly excellent the choice of the word ‘hurl’ is and how excellently true the observation contained in the lines is, maybe you don’t like poetry as much as you thought. Or maybe you need to read a lot more of it.”—Brandon Holmquest

Well played, Brandon, well played. Very intriguing poet (who is currently learning how to write poetry in English) and coming from New Directions, it’s got a really good chance of winning: 5-to-1.

The Book of Things by Aleš Šteger, translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry (BOA Editions) (Why This Book Should Win)

“The poems in Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things focus with nearly comic intensity on an array of everyday objects—an egg, a coat, a toothpick, a stomach. Here, a potato recollects the soil it came from. Or a hand dryer speaks a windy language we can’t quite understand. Or a doormat forgives us all. But Šteger’s poems go far beyond mere comic description, personification, or metaphor. Rather, his objects reflect our own strange complexities—our eagerness to consume, our rationalizations and kindness. Our many cruelties and our grandiosities.”—Kevin Prufer

This is the second year in a row BOA Editions has a book on the shortlist, and I like Kevin’s line about “a hand dryer speaking a windy language we can’t quite understand”: 5-to-1

Flash Cards by Yu Jian, translated from the Chinese by Wang Ping and Ron Padgett (Zephyr Press) (Why This Book Should Win)

“In Flash Cards, his first collection to appear in English translation, he writes of frogs that died in 1998 along with their pond, but also of the mosquitoes that remain there, ‘sometimes conversing in English.’ It’s hard to translate humor well, especially in the streamlined language of a poem, but American poet Ron Padgett and Chinese poet Wang Ping do an extraordinary job of getting the tone right every time. ‘Conversing’ is just the verb for a wry, quirky line like this in English.”—Idra Novey

Zephyr Press is a perennial finalist for the poetry award, and this book, translated from the Chinese, has a strong chance of winning the award. But based on Tim Nassau’s slightly less enthusiastic review I’ll put the odd at 10-to-1.

That’s it. Winners announced Friday night. Now off to PEN World Voices . . .

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