Lack of Vision

  • By Charles Bane Jr.
  • April 30, 2015

The blindness of the 2015 Pulitzer’s poetry judges

Lack of Vision

Nothing is more dangerous than the attempt to describe in lasting terms the times we live in, but there are periods so acutely gifted that even the witnesses to it understand that they are living through something extraordinary.

Feminist poetry is so transcendent that it's created a renaissance that’s dominating American letters. Four individuals who don't recognize this, unfortunately, are the anonymous judges who awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry to a male poet (from among three male finalists).

I have the deepest respect for the winner, Gregory Pardlo, as I respect all my fellow poets who are more downhill skiers than artists, risking catastrophe at the end of every line break as we hurtle to ends that explode in meaning.

But this is not the same as the reach of Claudia Rankine's "Citizen," so extraordinary that it invents virtually a new language to counter the harrowing experience of racism, or the overpowering talent of Matthea Harvey, who literally bursts into visual art forms in her “If The Tabloids Are True What Are You?" in an effort to illustrate the shadows of her soul.

No male poet can compete with these efforts because we are not in a struggle with the Western Canon, the lopsided and unfair workplace, or a global landscape where denigration and sexual assault are cultural norms, and where even protest against these norms is ridiculed.

All these current dangers make the poetry of feminists who grasp a cosmos on their own terms sublime:

"Stargazing" by Ariana Nadia Nash

The stars are all the skin
I’ll never touch. They are
the bright points of years
I have not lived, the names

I do not know. They speak
to worlds inside myself
I will not learn. They shock —
this spread of stars, these motes

of fireballs, this milky
conflagration. In their depth
and beauty, they are

the most intricate map
of the unknown, the most
wild moan of silence.

The year 2016 will see the entry of new poetry by feminists. Susannah Nevison, for one, is ordering a collection as clear as water. And the Pulitzer Foundation, as is its policy, will choose fresh judges for its panel. I hope those judges are wise.

Charles Bane Jr. is author of The Chapbook (Curbside Splendor), Love Poems (Aldrich Press), and Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall (collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University). He created and contributes to “The Meaning of Poetry” series for the Project Gutenberg Project, and is a current nominee for poet laureate of Florida.

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