Who will win the award for poetry on Wednesday?
By Janice Harayda
Publishing is an incestuous industry, rife with logrolling and cronyism. But this year’s National Book Awards may have set a record for conflicts of interest or the appearance of them.
At least one fiction judge has had to recuse herself from some of the deliberations, and a nonfiction judge has reason to do so. And the poetry shortlist raises enough similar questions that I’ve scrapped my plan to tweet and re-post here micro-reviews of excerpts of its finalists, as I did for fiction and nonfiction. That plan grew out of a hypothesis: that if the judging was fair and the excerpts represented the overall quality of the books, you could predict the winner from them. But the sponsor of the National Book Awards has provided too little evidence that it has established the internal controls needed to keep cozy relationships among the poetry judges from undermining process of selecting a winner in that category.
So instead of reviewing poetry finalists, I’ll just make the prediction I promised on Twitter: Carl Phillips’s Double Shadow or Yussef Komunyakaa’s The Chameleon Couch will win. Phillips, Komunyakaa and Adrienne Rich are the strongest finalists on the evidence of their excerpts. But Rich’s work hasn’t matched her Diving Into the Wreck, which won the 1974 National Book Award. And although judges in such situations are supposed to consider only the nominated book, an author’s earlier work may affect the deliberations, anyway. To my mind, that makes Phillips or Komunyakaa the likely winner.
You can also follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button at right. She will predict the winner of the award for young people’s literature tomorrow.
© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.