Pegasus Award for Criticism

Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore by Linda Leavell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

The first biographer to have unrestricted access to Marianne Moore's family archive, Linda Leavell paints a fuller picture than readers have previously had of the poet's famously close relationship with her mother, her early connections to American modernists, and how these influences shaped her highly original work. Deftly interweaving biographical details with her poems, Holding On Upside Down is the engaging and illuminating biography that Moore has long deserved.

ARK by Ronald Johnson. Flood Editions, 2013.

Ronald Johnson's ARK, a modern American poetry classic, was long out of print until Flood Editions published Peter O'Leary's diligently corrected and beautifully designed text last year. By restoring the poem and publishing it in an appealing and affordable volume, this groundbreaking work is now, for the first time, widely available for readers in an edition that does it full justice.

The Virtues of Poetry, by James Longenbach. Graywolf, 2013.

The Virtues of Poetry casts a powerful, expanding light, not only on Dickinson, Whitman, Pound, Bishop, and the other writers at hand, but also on poetry at large. James Longenbach is that rare critic whose close readings unite understanding, imagination, knowledge, and brilliant sensory perceptions so that particulars have a transcendent quality—like the virtues of his title. "The best poems ever written constitute our future," he writes in his preface, and these subtle, yet bold essays deeply engage the reader in that past, in that future.

Mahmoud Darwish: The Poet’s Art and His Nation by Khaled Mattawa. Syracuse University Press, 2014.

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

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting, by Richard Burton. Prospecta, 2014.

Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 – 2001, edited by Carolyn Forché and Duncan Wu. WW Norton & Company, 2013.

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia, by Philip Lamantia. Edited by Garrett Caples, Nancy Joyce Peters and Andrew Joron. University of California, 2013.

Lake Superior, by Lorine Niedecker. Edited by Joshua Beckman. Wave Books, 2013.

My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch, by Daniel Tiffany. Johns Hopkins University, 2014.

Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry, by Dorothy Wang. Stanford, 2014.

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