Thursday, October 22, 2009

rich white straight male poets need not apply

here's Charles Simic on the NYRB blog:

"No recent book of poetry has been reviewed as widely and as favorably as Frederick Seidel’s Poems 1959-2009. It seems as if every major newspaper and literary magazine on both sides of the Atlantic has already published an admiring piece on the poet and we can expect more accolades to come. “Thank God for Fred Seidel,” Michael Hofmann concludes a review of the book in September issue of Poetry. Adam Kirsch agrees, calling Seidel perhaps the best American poet alive. Even the critics who have expressed a few reservations about his poetry agree that he’s never boring. . . ."

Since the publication of Seidel's book in March, it has been widely recognized as the most important volume of verse to appear in 2009—

as Simic summarizes, the Seidel has gained a critical consensus unmatched among this year's crop of poetry books—

so why, one wonders, is "Poems 1959-2009" not on the list of noms for the National Book Award?

here's the NBA list, as selected by judges Mei-Mei Berssenbruge, A. Van Jordan, Cole Swenson, and Kevin Young:

Rae Armantrout,
Versed (Wesleyan University Press)

Ann Lauterbach,
Or to Begin Again (Viking Penguin)

Carl Phillips,
Speak Low (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon,
Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Keith Waldrop,
Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press)

Where's the Seidel book?

Critically acclaimed as the book of the year, and what, it's not even on the NBA shortlist—what's with that?

I asked C. Dale Young about this on his always-interesting blog "Avoiding the Muse" and here's his answer to me:

C. Dale said...

Sometimes the NBA doesn't consider collected poems or selected poems. The committee of judges decides that before they begin reading. Maybe this year the judges decided not to consider Collecteds.


So it seems the "committee of judges" for this year's NBA poetry prize

has "decided not to consider Collecteds,"

thus ensuring that the Seidel book is out of the running . . .

I hold no brief for Frederic Seidel, he's far from one of my favorites,

but this egregious decision by the NBA judges to preemptively exclude his book is, I think, scandalous—

how absurd, that this extraordinarily celebrated and admired book should be banned by the NBA because of, well, what else can you call it but bias?

I sympathize with the judges: last year's NBA went to a rich white straight male poet (Robert Halfhass),

so of course for the sake of diversity they were loath to give it this year

to an even richer white straight male poet,

no matter how much praise his book has received—

"Poems 1959-2009" has been overwhelmingly hailed and lauded since its publication on March 31, 2009—

hasn't it been established as the
the Poetry Book of the Year by many of the most eminent critics of our time (see quotes below): hasn't their advocacy elevated this book to an unique status and significance?

so it's no wonder that the NBA judges opted to preclude it, and via a technicality to render it ineligible—

their cowardly decision is understandable.

After all, they probably said, the bastard is sure to cop the Pulitzer and other prizes—

but for the judges to use this sneaky, underhanded act of entailment—

to gerrymander Seidel out of contention—

they can 'disqualify' the elephant in the room all they want, but that won't stop him from trampling them—


The National Book Award for poetry goes to the best book of poetry published in the previous 12-month period,

except when it doesn't.

Except when the judges manipulate the rules and change the criteria to suit their agendas.

Shame on the National Book Awards organization for allowing bad-faith ploys like this, for winking at this kind of double-dealing machination.

Frankly, the NBA Po judges are chickenshit. They're afraid to reject Seidel straightforwardly, so they adopt this pusillanimous bullshit rule of not considering selecteds/collecteds, and hide themselves behind it . . .

What are they hiding from?

In short, this:

“The most frightening American poet ever—phallus-man, hangman of political barbarism—Seidel is the poet the twentieth century deserved.”—Calvin Bedient, Boston Review

“He radiates heat. It is apparent that he has asked himself frightful questions and has not dodged the implications of their equally frightful answers . . . A master of metaphor.”—Louise Bogan, The New Yorker

“Beguiling and magisterial.”—Joel Brouwer, The New York Times Book Review

“Profoundly beautiful . . . The writer willing to say the unsayable.”—Philip Connors, n+1

“The best verse out of the United States since whenever.”—Joe Fiorito, The Toronto Star

“Among the two or three finest poets writing in English.”—Alex Halberstadt, New York

“[Final Solutions] seems to me one of the most moving and powerful books of poetry to have come along in years.”—Anthony Hecht, The New York Review of Books

Area Code 212 [is] our new Waste Land, as monitory and radical . . . as Eliot’s poem was in 1922.”—George Held, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A triumphant outsider in American poetry . . . He takes risks utterly unthinkable, even as merely mutinous provocation, in an academic workshop.”—Ernest Hilbert, Contemporary Poetry Review

“[Life on Earth] is an exemplary book . . . One of the best by an American poet in the past twenty years.”—Michael Hofmann, The Times Literary Supplement

“One of the world’s most inspired and unusual poets . . . His poems are a triumph of cosmic awe in the face of earthly terror.” —Hillel Italie, USA Today

“In American poetry today there is no one with Frederick Seidel’s sheer ambition, comprehensive sense of our times, sophistication, nerve and skill . . . One of the most vital and important poets we have.”—Lawrence Joseph, The Nation

“The excellent table manners combined with a savage display of appetite: this is what everyone notices in Seidel. Yet he wouldn’t be so special or powerful a poet of what’s cruel, corrupt, and horrifying had he not also lately shown himself to be a great poet of innocence.”—Benjamin Kunkel, Harper’s Magazine

“In the desert of contemporary American poetry, Frederick Seidel’s work awaits the weary reader like an oasis.”—James Lasdun, The Guardian

“Here is the new kind of visionary, the person who really wants to change the world fast, the person who believes in something.”—Adam Phillips, Raritan

“Frederick Seidel is a ghoul, and he has produced this nascent century's finest collection of English poems.”—Michael Robbins, Chicago Review




here's C. Dale Young in response to my post above:

Blogger C. Dale said...


I offered a postulate, a hypothesis. I did not offer a reason. I do not work for the NBA, nor did I contact them about whether or not they are considering Collecteds for this round. I simply posted what I have heard from people in the past. You are trying the NBA and its judges in the Court of Public Opinion using my guess as evidence when it is still just that, a guess.

8:38 AM


jeepers, I wonder what Young means by "court of public opinion",

the 2-3 nobodies that might glance at this blogsite once or twice a week?

Young himself never links to or mentions any of my posts here, so I'm surprised he imagines anybody else is reading and responding to anything on these pages—