Alan Dugan accepts the 2001 National Book Award in Poetry for Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry

Against the Text “Art is Immortal”,
from Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry

All art is temporal. All art is lost.
Go to Egypt. Go look at the Sphinx.
It’s falling apart. He sits
on water in the desert and the water table shifts.
He has lost his toes to the sand-
blasts of the Saharan winds
of a mere few thousand years.
The Mamelukes shot up his face
because they were Iconoclasts,
because they were musketeers.
The British stole his beard
because they were imperialist thieves.
It’s in the cellar of the British Museum
where the Athenians lost their marbles.

And that City of Ideas
the Socrates once had in mind
has faded too, like the Parthenon
from car exhaust, and from
the filthiness of the Turks
who used it as a dump.
If that city ever was
for Real in public works
and not just words he said:
No things but in ideas.
No ideas but in things
I say as William Carlos Williams said,
things as the Sphinx is our thing,
a beast of a man made god
stoned into art to gaurd the dead
from nothing, nothing and vanishing
toes first in the desert,
sand-blasted off into nothing
by a few thousand years of air,
sand, take your pick, picker,
go to Egypt, go look
at the Sphinx while it lasts.
Art is not immortal.
Art is not mortal.
All art is ideas in things.
All art is temporal. All art is lost.
The imperial desert is moving in
with water, sand and wind
to wear the godly native beast of man apart
back to the nothing which sculpted him.

And remember the Mamelukes, remember the Brits.
They were the iconoclasts of their own times,
primitive musketeers, primitive chiselers. This time
we can really blas the beast of man to bits.

Andrea Barrett accepts the 1996 National Book Award in Fiction for Ship Fever and Other Stories

I’m truly so surprised. I’m very thrilled to be here and just to be included in this group of nominees was such an amazing honor. I really didn’t expect anything more than this.

The books here tonight are ones I just admire enormously, the other books in the group. Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House, which is a beautifully imagined love story. It’s a terrific book. The seemingly disparate worlds that are brought together in Janet Perry’s The River Beyond the World is completely unforgettable. Steven Milhauser’s brilliant Portrait of a 19th Century Entrepreneur is a book that I’ll remember all my life. It seems to hold the whole American dream within it and I admire it enormously. And Ron Hansen’s Atticus which is just a splendid portrayal of filial love and he’s also the author of Mariette In Ecstasy, which is a book I admire just unreservedly and teach very often and re-read very often. So just to be in this group of people seemed quite extraordinary to me.

Like any of the nominees, I’m very acutely aware of how much my good fortune depends on the hard work and support of very many other people, and I would like to try and thank some of them now. Among those I’d like to thank are the editors of the small magazines in which these stories were first published. The National Endowment of the Arts, which granted me a fellowship at a crucial time in my career and made the writing of these stories possible at all and is now in such danger and is so important to all of us that we support that.

My first editor, Jane Rosenman, who stuck with me through four novels, although none were commercially successful. My dear friend Margo Livesey with whom I share work in early stages, and upon whose guidance I rely with every book I write. My agent, Wendy Weil, who’s helped me completely and with everything since the beginning, always with good humor and always with wisdom. My husband, Barry Goldstein, who believed in me from the beginning and is the rock upon which I lean. And my editor at Norton, Carol Houck Smith.

Many of you know Carol and if you do, you know she’s one of the great angels of literature. Ship Fever was a difficult book to edit, to design, to get into the hands of reviewers and book store sellers, and Carol was it’s champion at every stage. I can’t thank her enough and this award is partly hers. Thank you, Carol, and thank all of you very much.

—Andrea Barrett

Allen Ginsberg accepts the 1974 National Book Award in Poetry for The Fall of America: Poems of these States, 1965-1971

Ginsberg’s speech was delivered by his partner, Peter Orlovsky.

Poem book Fall of America is time capsule of personal national consciousness during American war-decay recorded 1965 to 1971. It includes one prophetic fragment, written on Speakers Platform of May 9, 1970 Washington D.C. Peace Protest Mobilization:

White sunshine on sweating skulls
Washington’s Monument pyramided high granite clouds
over a soul mass, children screaming in their brains on
quiet grass
(black man strapped hanging in blue denims from an earth
cross) –
Soul brightness under blue sky
Assembled before White House filled with mustached Germans
& police buttons, army telephones, CIA Buzzers, FBI bugs
Secret Service walkie-talkies, Intercom Squawkers to Narco
Fuzz & Florida Mafia Real Estate Speculators.
One hundred thousand bodies naked before an Iron Robot
Nixon’s brain Presidential cranium case spying thru binoculars
from the Paranoia Smog Factory’s East Wing.

Book here honored with public prize, best proclaim further prophetic foreboding that our United States is now the “fabled damned of nations” foretold by Walt Whitman a hundred years ago. The materialist brutality we have forced on ourselves & world is irrevocably visible in dictatorships our government has established thru South Central America, including deliberate wreckage of Chilean democracy. From Greece to Persia we have established police states, and throughout Indochina wreaked criminal mass murder on millions, subsidized opium dealing, destroyed land itself, imposed military tyranny both openly & secretly in Cambodia, Vietnam & Thailand.

Our quote “Defense of the free world” is an aggressive hypocrisy that has damaged the very plant’s chance of survival. Now we have spent thousands of billions on offensive War in decades, and half the world is starving for food. The reckoning has come now for America. 100 Billion goes to the War Department this year out of 300 Billion Budget. Our militarization has become so top heavy that there is no turning back from Military Tyranny. Police agencies have become so vast – National Security Agency alone the largest police bureaucracy in America yet its activities are almost unknown to all of us – that there is no turning back from computerized police state control of America.

Watergate is a froth on the swamp: impeachment of a living President does not remove the hundred Billion power of the Military nor the secret billion power of the police state apparatus. Any President who would try to curb power of the Military-police would be ruined or murdered.

So I take this occasion of publicity to call out the Fact: our military has practiced subversion of popular will abroad and can do so here if challenged, create situations of Chaos, take over the Nation by Military Coup, and proclaim itself Guardian over public order. And our vast police networks can, as they have in last decade, enforce that will on public and poet alike.

We have all contributed to this debacle with our aggression and self-righteousness, including myself. There is no longer any hope for the Salvation of America proclaimed by Jack Kerouac and others of our Beat Generation, aware and howling, weeping and singing Kaddish for the nation decades ago, “rejected yet confessing out the soul.” All we have to work from now is the vast empty quiet space of our own Consciousness. AH! AH! AH!

Alan Dugan accepts the 1962 National Book Award in Poetry for Poems

Alan Dugan read an acceptance poem instead of a speech


Always getting ready to go out
but never leaving, I looked out
at the developments of the day
from morning up to noon and down,
as the year went down to January,
the pit of the year, and then came up
again. “To take off,” I said,
“Always to leave,” mis-quoting Guillén,*
but I stayed in my paces and room
always getting ready to go out
but never leaving. Ah how I worked
for twenty years to send word out
to the day about my situation. Then
it sent back steamship tickets and
a hammer of images forged by deaths
and the idea of death, the cash savior.
“I have broken through,” I said
to the window for the last time,
and walked out on to the ocean and
Europe for an outside view of home.

* Editor’s Note: Dugan refers to Jorge Guillén, the Spanish poet, some of whose work he translated.

Robert Lowell accepts the 1960 National Book Award in Poetry for Life Studies

Last Monday when I was telephoning my editor for a little instruction and coaching for this speech, the secretary seemed reluctant to put my call through. “What Mr. Lowell?” she asked. “What firm does he belong to?” Bruised and blocked, I said, “None, I mean, your firm. I am one of your authors.” Then the telephone operator broke in with, “He says he is one of your orators.” It’s hard for an author to be an orator, and it is hard to find modest, memorable words to thank my judges and sponsors, all these various bookmen and booksellers. I am grateful for my award. I like to think that my book was a reasonable choice among several reasonable choices.

I am afraid that writing verse rather atrophies one’s faculties for communication. Our modern American poetry has a snarl on its hands. Something earth-shaking was started about fifty years ago by the generation of Eliot, Frost, and William Carlos Williams. We have had a run of poetry as inspired, and perhaps as important and sadly brief as that of Baudelaire and his successors, or that of the dying Roman Republic and early Empire. Two poetries are now competing, a cooked and a raw. The cooked, marvelously expert, often seems laboriously concocted to be tasted and digested by a graduate seminar. The raw, huge blood-dripping gobbets of unseasoned experience are dished up for midnight listeners. There is a poetry that can only be studied, and a poetry that can only be declaimed, a poetry of pedantry, and a poetry of scandal. I exaggerate, of course. Randall Jarrell has said that the modern world has destroyed the intelligent poet’s audience and given him students. James Baldwin has said that many of the beat writers are as inarticulate as our statesmen.

Writing is neither transport nor technique. My own owes everything to a few of our poets who have tried to write directly about what mattered to them, and yet to keep faith with their calling’s tricky, specialized, unpopular possibilities for good workmanship. When I finished Life Studies, I was left hanging on a question mark. I am still hanging there. I don’t know whether it is a death-rope or a life-line.

—Robert Lowell