The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2023 National Book Award for Poetry. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on Tuesday, October 3.
The 2023 Poetry Longlist includes poets in all stages of their publishing careers. Only one honoree on the Poetry Longlist has been previously honored by the National Book Awards: Monica Youn was a Finalist for Poetry in 2010 and a Longlister for Poetry in 2016. This year’s Poetry Longlist includes a Guggenheim Fellow and three National Endowment for the Arts Fellows. The poets have been recognized by the American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, the Lannan Literary Award, the Pushcart Prizes, the William Carlos Williams Award, and more. Three of the books come from university presses and six come from independent publishers, including one publisher that is appearing on the National Book Award Longlists for the first time: the University of Georgia Press.
Monica Youn offers a piercing examination of America’s obsession with what it considers “other” in her latest collection, From From. Through poetry and personal essays, Youn manipulates technique and subject—from Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons and Proust to the television show Fresh Off the Boat and Greek mythology—to confront American racism and anti-Asian violence and reflect back the question of “where are you from from” onto its readers. Paisley Rekdal, too, confronts anti-Asian sentiments and the Asian experience in the US—primarily from a historical perspective. West: A Translation is a hybrid collection of poems and lyric essays inspired by an anonymous carving at a detention center in San Francisco eulogizing a Chinese migrant who died there by suicide. Informed by historical artifacts and her own family’s history, Rekdal presents a translation of the anonymous poem followed by “notes” that contextualize the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, built during the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Three works offer meditations on the possibilities of individual and collective survival, while also confronting the precarity of the modern world. Annelyse Gelman’s book-length poem Vexations—titled and structured after Erik Satie’s 19th-century piano score of the same name—follows a mother and daughter traveling through a dystopian world where the contagion at hand affects human empathy. Vexations embodies both speculative fiction and call-to-action across a sonic, cinematic soundscape. In Trace Evidence, Charif Shanahan examines his queer, mixed-race identity and the legacies of anti-Blackness and colonialism in the US and abroad. At the core of Shanahan’s collection is a poem about a catastrophic bus accident he survived during a trip to his mother’s native Morocco. Across three distinct sections, Shanahan contends with erasure, mortality, and against all odds, living. Evie Shockley plays with visuals, sounds, and poetic form to pay homage to Black feminist visionaries, both living and departed in her collection suddenly we. Shockley asks readers to envision a more balanced relationship between inner self and outer community, and ultimately, a more expansive definition of the collective “we.”
In two collections, new paths are forged and ancestral ways are preserved, demonstrating poetry’s ability to transcend any one time or medium. from unincorporated territory [åmot] is the fifth collection in Craig Santos Perez’s ongoing series dedicated to the history of his homeland and the culture of the indigenous Chamoru people from the western Pacific island of Guåhan (Guam). Through experimental poems, Perez observes and asserts storytelling as an act of resistance—a written form of “åmot,” the Chamoru word for “medicine”—that champions decolonization, demilitarization, and environmental justice. John Lee Clark’s How to Communicate considers the small joys and pains of life, and the endless possibilities of language through poems influenced by the Braille slate and translated from American Sign Language and Protactile, a language used by DeafBlind people that’s rooted in touch. The result is an inventive and human exploration on the power of tactility and of poetry.
Several collections on this year’s Longlist consider migration to and in the United States and explore the inherent complexities—and joys—of diasporic identity. In The Diaspora Sonnets, Oliver de la Paz chronicles his family’s search for a home in the US after leaving the Philippines in 1972. The reader travels from coast to coast alongside de la Paz’s uprooted family, as the sonnets themselves become homes for belonging, longing, and displacement. Promises of Gold positions love—cultural, familial, platonic, and for one’s self—as a hopeful and healing anecdote to intergenerational trauma. José Olivarez reflects on his experience as the son of Mexican immigrants and the slipperiness of the American Dream in this collection, which includes a complete translation from the original English into Spanish by poet David Ruano González. Tripas celebrates Brandon Som’s upbringing in a multicultural, multigenerational home—honoring his Chinese American father who ran the family corner store and his Mexican Nana who worked on the assembly line at Motorola. Som’s poems traverse languages, cultures, and borders, connecting his family histories and heritages in a conversation about migration, labor, and memory.
Publishers submitted a total of 295 books for the 2023 National Book Award for Poetry. The judges for Poetry are Rick Barot, Heid E. Erdrich (Chair), Jonathan Farmer, Raina J. León, and Solmaz Sharif. Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors, and deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the National Book Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.
John Lee Clark, How to Communicate
W. W. Norton & Company
Oliver de la Paz, The Diaspora Sonnets
Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company
Annelyse Gelman, Vexations
University of Chicago Press
José Olivarez, Promises of Gold
Henry Holt and Company / Macmillan Publishers
Craig Santos Perez, from unincorporated territory [åmot]
Paisley Rekdal, West: A Translation
Copper Canyon Press
Brandon Som, Tripas
Georgia Review Books / University of Georgia Press
Charif Shanahan, Trace Evidence
Tin House Books
Evie Shockley, suddenly we
Wesleyan University Press
Monica Youn, From From