Lots of excitement last week about the announcement of the National Book Award finalists, and I’ll leave it to others to debate the merits of the fiction and nonfiction finalists. Here’s my pitch to check out the strong and varied poetry list, ranging from David Ferry’s elegant Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press) to Cynthia Huntington’s daring and radiant ode to the Sixties, Heavenly Bodies (Southern Illinois University Press); from Tim Seibles’s Fast Animals (Etruscan Press), a tale of African American coming-of-age; to Alan Shapiro’s Night of the Republic (Houghton Harcourt), a Hopperesque account of America; to Susan Wheeler’s Meme (University of Iowa Press), a sharp-edged, insistent take on family legacy.
As always, when I see a list of poetry books I start thinking about what novels or novelists I might pair with each title, as one more way to promote verse. Here are some quick thoughts. For Ferry’s forthright eloquence, writers from David Foster Wallace to E.L. Doctorow to Julian Barnes came to mind. With Huntington, I’d reread T.C. Boyle, Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion, and Robert Stone, and what about Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, and Michael Chabon’s current Telegraph Avenue, to see how that Sixties vibe has played out?
Then there’s Seibles’s work, which put me in the mood for a good Colson Whitehead novel—not to mention T. Geronimo Johnson’s current debut novel, Hold It ’Til It Hurts, the story of two black brothers, adopted by a white couple, on a search for their past. Alan Shapiro’s Night of the Republic? I’d pick up Richard Russo, Richard Ford, and Russell Banks. Finally, with Wheeler’s Meme, there’s no shortage of prickly family tales; I’d start with Kent Haruf, Mary Gordon, and Sue Miller. Again, fun, fast choices; I’d be glad to hear yours.