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Inside the Nightboat Books Poetry Prize

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

A blog from: Poets & Writers Magazine

Posted by Prize Reporter on 8.20.10

Nightboat Books has been offering its poetry book publication prize since one year after the small press that "resists convention and transcends boundaries" was founded in 2003. The award, judged this year by Kimiko Hahn, includes one thousand dollars as well as a standard royalty contract and twenty-five author copies.

We asked Hahn, author of eight collections including Toxic Flora (Norton, 2010) and The Narrow Road to the Interior (2006), about her guiding principles when judging the contest. "I tend to favor highly textured language—see Jack Myers's description," she said. "Also, a mix of personal and social concerns doesn't hurt."

Here is the definition Myers and his coauthor Don Wukasch offer for texture in their Dictionary of Poetic Terms (Longman, 1985): "From Latin for 'to weave.' Originally, the surface constitution of a painting or sculpture. In poetry, according to the New Critics, which used the term frequently, texture refers to the unparaphrasable elements of a poem."

What are those important elements? According to Myers and Wukasch, "aesthetic surface, dramatic structure, form, imagery, irony, lineation, meter, rhyme, rhythm, sound system, and typographical arrangement." They also refer to the "heresy of paraphrase," a critical idea introduced by Cleanth Brooks in his 1947 book, The Well Wrought Urn, which argues that a poem cannot be expressed satisfactorily via paraphrase.

Last year's poetry prize judge, Fanny Howe, chose Black Took Collective cofounder Dawn Lundy Martin's second book, Discipline (forthcoming in February 2011) for the 2010 prize. "These poems are dense and deep," Howe said of Martin's winning work. "They are necessary, and hot on the eye. I was reminded of Leslie Scalapino, the sensitivity to the surrounding arrangements and to human suffering. There is no distance from Martin’s subject, but immersion and emotional conflict. Discipline is what it took to write such a potent set of poems.”

Other past winners include Paula Cisewski for Ghost Fargo, Lytton Smith for The All Purpose Magical Tent, Jonathan Weinert for In the Mode of Disappearance, Joshua Kryah for Glean, and Juliet Patterson for Truant Lover.

In the video below, Hahn discusses her love of language and reads from her latest collection.

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