The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

October 12, 2011

Congratulations to Carl Phillips and Yusef Komunyakaa

National Book AwardBoth poets have been named finalist for the 2011 National Book Award in poetry. Carl Phillips published Double Shadow in March and has been previously nominated for the award three times. Here's an excerpt from our previous interview with Phillips:

"Any interesting individual deepens, psychologically, emotionally with age—but the ways in which we grow or deepen isn't predictable; that's my problem with the idea of swearing to love someone forever, because we can't predict who either of us is going to be as we get shaped by experiences along the way. The surprise of what we might become in the future is thrilling and frightening—frightening because it seems to me we spend our lives trying to get a sense of who we are, how we want to live, etc., only to find that it keeps changing from moment to moment. Without that change, life would be boring; but constant change means instability, which we're programmed to avoid.

"So, yes, the title in part refers to the multiplicity of selves within a self, but also to what’s mentioned in the poem 'Night,' where the self is portrayed as a restless choir that casts forth a double shadow: 'now risk, and now faintheartedness.' It’s an old idea, of course, the idea that we have a restless, Dionysian side and a more stabilizing Apollonian side. And either one is useless by itself—the trick is to balance both aspects of our personality, but it can be hard to do, or so I have found . . . Which brings me to the third part of your question: I would say the book is very much about this kind of struggle within the self, and about how that struggle can both assist and hinder an impulse to make a life with another person."

And congrats are in order as well for Yusef Komunyakaa and his collection The Chameleon Couch. His previous book, Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. Here he talks about is approach to time and memory in his work, from our interview in April:

"Time is personal and in that sense it is emotionally malleable, because it’s not linear but maybe circular or even fractured. I think the past can often register in the body as emotional experience. In this way, time can be thought of as psychological rather than physical. I think of music, those hunters singing before venturing out into the forest to confront their prey, which is often deadly. For me, it is not difficult to travel there, to actually be in that memory cave. That is the power of the imagination. For me, the present relates to the past and possibly to the future—perhaps because a sense of history is important to me. It allows me to engage the present with a certain kind of tangible reality, and in that sense, life for me is a matrix of convergences."

Komunyakaa is also an incredible reader of his own work, with a voice gravel-filled, assured, and warm. Here he reads from "Love in the Time of War":

Love in the Time of War 


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