National Poetry Month: Winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Photo of magnetic poetry words
Photo courtesy Steve Johnson on Flickr under CC License.

April is National Poetry Month! To celebrate this literary art form here’s a list of all the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry from the 2010s with links to the library’s catalog to help you find whichever appeals to you. These collections represent some of the best of modern American poetry and are a great place to dive into the wonderful world of poetry.

3 Sections book cover2014: 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri

Vijay Seshadri’s new poetry is assured and expert, his line as canny as ever. In an array of poetic forms from the rhyming lyric to the philosophical meditation to the prose essay, 3 Sections confronts perplexing divisions of contemporary life-a wayward history, an indeterminate future, and a present condition of wanting to outthink time. This is an extraordinary book, witty and vivacious, by one of America’s best poets.

Stag's Leap book cover2013: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds

In this wise and intimate new book, Sharon Olds tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom. As she carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending, Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip; the radical change in her sense of place in the world. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. Olds’s propulsive poetic line and the magic of her imagery are as lively as ever, and there is a new range to the music–sometimes headlong, sometimes contemplative and deep. Her unsparing approach to both pain and love makes this one of the finest, most powerful books of poetry she has yet given us.

Life on Mars book cover2012: Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

In this brilliant collection of new poems, Tracy K. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant and revisits kitschy concepts like ‘love’ and ‘illness’, now relegated to the museum of obsolescence. With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe, accompanying the discoveries, failures and oddities of human existence and establishing Smith as one of the best poets of her generation.

 

The Best of It book cover2011: The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan’s Pulitzer Prize win is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. She was appointed the Library of Congress’s sixteenth poet laureate from 2008 to 2010. The two hundred poems in Ryan’s The Best of It offer a stunning retrospective of her work, as well as a swath of never-before-published poems of which are sure to appeal equally to longtime fans and general readers.

 

Versed book cover2010: Versed by Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout has always organized her collections of poetry as though they were works in themselves. Versed brings two of these sequences together, offering readers an expanded view of the arc of her writing. The poems in the first section, Versed, play with vice and versa, the perversity of human consciousness. They flirt with error and delusion, skating on a thin ice that inevitably cracks. Dark Matter, the second section, alludes to more than the unseen substance thought to make up the majority of mass in the universe. The invisible and unknowable are confronted directly as Armantrout’s experience with cancer marks these poems with a new austerity, shot through with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking. Together, the poems of Versed part us from our assumptions about reality, revealing the gaps and fissures in our emotional and linguistic constructs, showing us ourselves where we are most exposed.

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