L.A. Times Book Prize: Poetry nominees


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There are four women and just one man among the five acclaimed poets in the running for the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. In his book ‘Watching the Spring Festival: Poems,’ Frank Bidart departs from long-form poetry for shorter pieces like ‘If See No End In Is,’ a sestina, which you can hear him read on this page. He’ll appear March 12 on Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm on KCRW.

Poet Cole Swensen, nominated for her book ‘Ours,’ has talked about the power of reading to a live audience. Readings, she says, are ‘part of the conversation about poetics that I find absolutely vital. There’s something about the atmosphere of a reading and its immediate afterward that opens a space for people to talk about meaning and meaning-making that doesn’t often come up.’


How people talk is of some importance to Marie Howe, whose nominated book is ‘The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems.’ In an interview with Agni in 2004, she admitted, ‘This week I have no faith in language. I must tell you I don’t, but that’s my own failing, not language’s. I feel like it’s the last outpost for us humans. I take it very seriously. I feel language has been utterly cut off by this culture and used in the service of consumerism and that poetry insists on the integrity of words, of a word.… I feel like poets and writers are the monks writing illuminated manuscripts, in the sense of trying to preserve the integrity of language, just to expand the possibilities for expression, because the culture is trying to push us into the same 20 words over and over again.’

Connie Voisine, author of ‘Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream,’ has a kind of faith in art. She now teaches at New Mexico State University. She grew up in Maine and after college moved to New York City. She writes, ‘My immersion in the avant-garde art world of the 1980s allowed me to understand the benefits of a vibrant art community and the role of an artist within one.’

Jorie Graham, whose ‘Sea Change: Poems’ is informed by a passionate environmentalism, has a different kind of faith in — or hope for — art. ‘We are so collapsed-down now into a buzzing noisy here-and-now, an era of instant gratification, decimated attention span, that it is going to take some work to help people ‘see’ in their mind’s ‘eye’ that far-off horizon many generations beyond their own time,’ she said in an interview last year. ‘But I wouldn’t be making the effort to … write such a book if I did not believe we still had that chance. A real chance. And that art could be in service of that goal.’

— Carolyn Kellogg