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June 8, 2012

Northern California Book Awards Celebrate Poetry!

When you live in one of the sweet spots of American writing, why depend on Pulitzers, National Book Awards, National Book Critics Circle Awards to give you your props?

Why not just drop the balloons, revolve the lights, and celebrate your own? That’s the notion behind the Northern California Book Awards that have been honoring our writers, energizing our literary community now for thirty-one years.

The emcee this year will be the Bay Area’s own “Indiana Jones of public radio,” Sedge Thomson from “West Coast Live”; Michael Pollan, celebrated food activist, cultural critic, and fine, forceful writer will receive the Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award; Paul Madonna will receive the NCBR Recognition Award for his book Everything Is Its Own Reward, An All Over Coffee Collection because it rocks out beyond the categories, and all the usual categories, themselves, will be communed and prayed over: Fiction, General Nonfiction, Creative Nonfiction, Children’s Literature, and Translation in both Fiction and Poetry.

And, of course, there’s Poetry, which we’re going to zoom in on here because it’s our special delight. This year’s nominees include Lorna Dee Cervantes for Ciento: 100 100-Word Love Poems, a book that invents exactly the form its title describes: each poem written to an imaginary lover of unspecified sex, building an incremental, crystalline verbal passion. Jane Hirshfield has been nominated again this year for Come Thief, written with her signal mindfulness, elegance, and proportion; this book perhaps is notable among her collections for the brevity and succinct, almost percussive power of its poems. Mary Mackey is up for Sugar Zone, a sensual paean to Brazil, the twenty years she spent off and on in its tropical dreamtime, a book that blends English and Portuguese almost to a third love tongue, that limns a place alternately comic, menacing, and hallucinatory. David Meltzer’s When I Was a Poet rolls poetically through the life of this extraordinary Beat writer, from childhood through shamanic godhead, through loss and disillusion, into new love in old age; no one is a keener troubadour than Meltzer; no one runs a finer riff. Michael Palmer is the fifth nominee for Thread; he may be the prime creator of the voice of No One, the Elysian voice that speaks in paradox, ties the silken slip knot, the voice that communes beyond America with Bok, Cabral, Du Cheng, Hölderlin, thereby bringing us back around to our larger selves.

The awards are followed by a reception, featuring free coffee, tea, wine, and generous hors d’oeuvres, amid book signings and sales. It’s the big schmooze, the sweet mingle. Come hang with us, with these extraordinary writers, and celebrate this vibrant literary community in which we’re so lucky to find ourselves.

—Richard Silberg

— posted by Amy Wu Wong

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