Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism

The Poetry Foundation is honored to announce that Mark Ford’s 2014 publication This Dialogue of One: Essays on Poets from John Donne to Joan Murray, from Eyewear Publishing, is awarded the annual $7,500 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, which honors the best book-length works of criticism, including biographies, essay collections, and critical editions that consider the subject of poetry or poets.

2015 Award Recipients

Winner: Mark Ford, Eyewear Publishing

Awarded for This Dialogue of One: Essays on Poets from John Donne to Joan Murray, by Mark Ford.

“If more literary criticism were like this,” John Lanchester has said of Ford’s essays, “more people would read it.” The 13 vivid, lucid, refreshing, and unfailingly surprising pieces in his collection range from the canonical (Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Charles Baudelaire, and T.S. Eliot) to the overlooked (James Thomson, Samuel Greenberg, and Joan Murray). Randall Jarrell believed that a critic writing at his or her best makes people see what they might otherwise never have seen; in this enriching and rewarding book, Ford is at his very best.

Finalists ($1,000)

Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry, by Paul Celan, translated and edited by Pierre Joris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

A collection nearly 50 years in the making, Pierre Joris’s Beathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry is a monumental achievement in translation and textual scholarship. This edition brings together the final five volumes of Celan’s poetry translated from the German, with an authoritative introduction and a trove of notes that illuminate Celan’s innovative and polysemous language. Considered one of the greatest German-language poets of the 20th century, Celan presents myriad difficulties in his poetry, both semantic and philosophical, as he renders a new language able to speak to the horrors of the Holocaust. This edition proves Joris to be one of those rare translators whose work possesses both rigorous scholarship and an intuitive understanding of poetic language.

 

James Merrill: Life and Art, by Langdon Hammer. Knopf, 2015

The lives of all great artists are inevitably singular, but the complex givens of James Merrill's life—astonishing talent, fabulous wealth—render his history almost impossible for us to focus with the same mysterious candor, aesthetic daring, and alertness to multiple perspectives that Merrill brought to his own finest poems, many of which, such as “Days of 1964,” “Lost in Translation,” “The Book of Ephraim,” and “Self-Portrait in Tyvek™ Windbreaker,” are among the most surprising and important of the past century. Yet in James Merrill: Life and Art, Langdon Hammer emerges as Merrill's perfect chronicler—and more. A nuanced and capacious observer, he is a deft prose writer, as well as a fine-grained analyst of poems. Biography as literature, craft, and art, this is a captivating and essential book.

 

Khaled Mattawa examines the work of Mahmoud Darwish, arguably Palestine’s most famous poet, within the context of the political strife that marked the region throughout Darwish’s life and continues today. Darwish’s struggle to be both “a spokesman for his people and a private lyrical poet” is illuminated through close readings of poems that chart notable shifts in aesthetic, technique, and subject. Mattawa’s keen insights into Arabic poetry and Palestinian history provide vital context for understanding Darwish’s work and its importance.

 

The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind, edited by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap. Fence Books, 2014.

The Racial Imaginary is the result of Claudia Rankine's Open Letter Project, which called for responses on ways race and writing share space in the imagination. The responses in this selection take various forms—epistolary, essayistic, and poetic—that offer intimate portraits of how race and writing meet. The result is an anthology that traces how, through figures such as James Baldwin and Gertrude Stein, racial imaginary has been discussed or ignored and demonstrates how relevant these conversations are to the contemporary moment. As the editors write, “the racial imaginary changes over time, in part because artists get into tension with it, challenge it.” This timely collection challenges everyone to foster these changes.

 

Where Have You Been? Selected Essays, by Michael Hofmann. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

Discerning and personable, the lively essays in Where Have You Been? chart a broad, essential map across 20th-century and contemporary poets. It is a travelogue filled with insights, observations, and opinions that could come only from a critic who is himself a gifted poet and a masterful translator. Most remarkably, Hofmann’s deep understanding of his subjects and his supple sensitivity to the workings of language never weigh him down but instead keep his critical imagination ever fresher for succeeding discoveries. Fortunate readers, both seasoned and new, will find Where Have You Been? an enriching roam; they’ll want to know where Hofmann might take them next.

 

Honorable Mentions

Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing, edited by Carmen Giménez Smith and John Chávez. Counterpath Press, 2014.

Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, Series. Center for the Humanities, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York, 2015.

Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel with Christa Fratantoro. Knopf, 2015.

The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination, by Carl Phillips. Graywolf Press, 2014.

Metaphor, by Denis Donoghue. Harvard University Press, 2014.


PAST AWARD RECIPIENTS

2014 University of California Press

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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