The list of winners of the National Book Awards 2021: Poetry


This week, The New Yorker will announce the long lists for the 2021 National Book Awards. On Wednesday, we presented the Children’s Literature and Translated Literature lists. Check back this afternoon for Nonfiction.

There is a moment in Forrest Gander’s poem “Post-Fire Forest,” published last spring in The New Yorker, where the speaker tries and fails to find the right word for what he sees as he walks through the ruins of a burnt wood: But the wasteland itself seems to speak with inalienable clarity, devoid of insincerity or insignificance. “What / remains of the forest is unfolding / exclamationally,” he writes. “Ashen / words in a tongue from which / all insignificant has been volatilized, / all insignificant in fire.” The human observer struggles to match the lucidity of the crisis.

“Post-Fire Forest” appears in the “Twice Alive” collection, which was listed at length for this year’s National Book Award in Poetry. “Twice Alive” is one of the many contenders documenting the human dimension of environmental and global disaster. Jackie Wang’s “The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void”, inspired by the author’s dreams, examines how seizures and trauma can infiltrate the subconscious. Martín Espada’s “Floaters” denounce the government’s neglect of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and the cruelty faced by migrants from Latin America.

The list was compiled from a total of two hundred and ninety publisher submissions. Gander is the only nominee who has ever been recognized by the National Book Awards; the other nine contenders are honored for the first time. The full list is below.

Threa Almontaser, “The wild fox of Yemen”
Gray Wolf Press

Baba Badji, “Ghost letters”
Press room

Desiree C. Bailey, “What a noise against the cane”
Yale University Press

CM Burroughs, “Master Suffering”
Tupelo press

Andrés Cerpa, “The vault”
Alice James Books

Martin Espada, “Floats”
WW Norton & Company

Gander Forest, “Twice Alive”
New directions

Douglas kearney, “Sho”
Wave books

Hoa Nguyen, “A thousand times you lose your treasure”
Wave books

Jackie wang, “The sunflower cast a spell to save us from the void”
Books on Night Boats

Judges for the category this year are A. Van Jordan, professor in the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, University of Michigan, and author of several books of poetry, including “Rise”; Don Mee Choi, whose book “DMZ Colony” won the National Book Award for Poetry 2020; Natalie Diaz, author of “When My Brother Was an Aztec” and “Postcolonial Love Poem”; Matthea Harvey, author of five collections of poetry, including “Modern Life”; and Ilya Kaminsky, author of “Deaf Republic”.


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