A Look at The National Book Award Nominees / Poetry

TELL ME, by Kim Addonizio, BOA Editions, $20

In this somewhat uneven, gritty collection of poetry, Addonizio gives a voice to the dank corners of bars, abusive relationships, and the hurtling path of self-destruction. While she doesn't romanticize these experiences or places, she occasionally finds beauty in even the most sordid moments, often using repetition and biting imagery to grab hold of the reader. Her poetry celebrates the desire to live life recklessly and fully, even as it mourns the destruction and debris that result. As we follow Addonizio's protagonist through last calls, one-night stands, and the shards of broken relationships, this final collapse into a drunken stupor sometimes seems too predictable. The poems that work best, such as "What do Women Want?" "Therapy," and "New Year's Day," offer both a distinctive voice and fresh insight. (96 pp.)

BLESSING THE BOATS, by Lucille Clifton, BOA Editions, $15

Clifton's poems are like a full moon - they shine with bold clarity. "Blessing the Boats" is an unflinching look at what it means to be black in America, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a human being with all kinds of hidden scars. But like the moon, Clifton rises again and again. Her work is filled with quiet compassion for people and their struggles. Her stunning imagery sears the senses, and her rhythms demand to be heard. New poems "moonchild," "donor," and "jasper texas" show Clifton to be at the height of her powers. They, like many earlier works, are lit by a wise, sure voice. "Blessing the Boats" is a captivating record of how this unique poet haunts and delights with her illuminating eye. (132 pp.) By Elizabeth Lund

A NEW SELECTED POEMS, by Galway Kinnell, Houghton Mifflin, $25

New England resides in these pages. Kinnell is a native of America's first literary region. Cold snow and clear nights work their way into his poems. The sounds of the wood are everywhere. But these sounds do not echo Emerson. Like any good trancendentalist, Kinnell sees the spiritual in material things, especially animals ("The Bear"). But he's more at home with Yeats in the "foul rag and bone shop of the heart." Like most poets, it took him a while to get a handle on sex, but he does come to realize lust is not a portal to anywhere. "That Silent Evening," incarnates the wisdom of the long married. Dylan Thomas may have not gone gentle into that good night, but there is no rage in "Parkinson's Disease," where Galway watches a father and a daughter dance their way into heaven. (173 pp.) By Jim Bencivenga

NEW ADDRESSES: POEMS, by Kenneth Koch, Knopf, $24

Aptly titled, Koch's collection of apostrophic, free verse succeeds in engaging readers on a range of topics. (An apostrophe addresses a personified object or idea). A significant portion of the book is autobiographical. The poet "addresses" such experiences as service in World War II ("To Carelessness"); stints abroad ("To The French Language"); childhood ("To Piano Lessons"); and later periods in Koch's life ("To My Fifties"). The remainder are apostrophes on subjects ranging from the mundane to the metaphysical. Koch's conversational tone is straightforward and accessible, light yet lucid. In some cases, it's downright fun as in "To Some Abstract Paintings," an ironic variation on Keats: "Beauty is abstract, abstract beauty. That is what/ We paintings know and what you may never know." (104 pp.) By Brian Zipp

THE OTHER LOVER, by Bruce Smith, University of Chicago Press, $26

This gritty collection of mostly free verse deals with topics ranging from love to football to politics ("I Pray for No More Reagans"). The tone is raw and masculine, with an urban, confrontational feel that is reflected in Smith's muscular rhythms and consonant-laden language. An angry poem to a former lover ends with the blunt coda: "And about that other guy by your side/ you left me for. I hope he dies." Still, there are some touching moments, particularly in poems dealing with the death of his father. "His Father in the Exhaust of Engines" quietly conveys the narrator's sense of loss and his guilt at having disparaged his father's life as a mechanic: "I'm the son ignorant of motor/ but prodigal of fuel and air." (104 pp.) By Liz Marlantes

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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