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Book News: Forward Prize For Poetry Goes To Michael Symmons Roberts

Michael Symmons Roberts, pictured in 2004, has been described as "a religious poet in a secular age."
Gareth Cattermole
Getty Images
Michael Symmons Roberts, pictured in 2004, has been described as "a religious poet in a secular age."

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Michael Symmons Roberts won the Forward Prize for Poetry, worth £10,000 (about $16,000), for his collection titled Drysalter, a book of 150 poems that are all 15 lines. Jeanette Winterson, who chaired the prize, has written of Roberts: "He is a religious poet in a secular age. His work is about the connection between the things of the spirit and the things of the world. And his work is about transcendence." (Listen to his poem "Mapping the Genome" over at Poetry magazine.) Meanwhile, Nick MacKinnon won the award's "Best Single Poem" prize, worth £1,000, for "The Metric System," an erotically charged poem about — you guessed it — learning the metric system. (A sample line: "I stared at her rose trellis ribcage / and the digits bloomed in the foliage.") This year's competition was marred by a plagiarism scandal, after the shortlisted poet C.J. Allen admitted to having copied other poets in some of his earlier works and withdrew from the competition.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and, more recently, The Signature Of All Things, spoke to Slate about literary snobbery: "If we've somehow internalized this idea that it's disgraceful or lacking in seriousness to discuss our feelings, our dreams, the ways in which we want to become better human beings — either that somehow those are trivial topics, and of course they are not at all; they're the big topics, the only topics — if we've somehow decided that that's going to subject us to ridicule or dismissal then that's kind of our own fault, I think."
  • For The New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn writes about modern political gridlock and the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy: "Cultural exhaustion, political inertia, the perverse yearning for some violent crisis that might break the deadlock and reinvigorate the state: these themes, so familiar to us right now, were favorites of Cavafy."
  • The New York Times asked Anna Holmes and Francine Prose to discuss "the most erotic books they've ever read." Anna Holmes chose Forever ... by Judy Blume: "Unlike the racier, more graphic sexual set pieces in Blume's adult fiction, Forever ... seems far more fascinated by the power of suggestion than explication, more curious about sexuality as the possibility, rather than the completion, of something. Meanwhile, Francine Prose turned to the Bible: "As a child, I was mystified by the Sodomites asking Lot to bring out the visiting angels so they could 'know' them. But I knew it was hot."
  • PRI's Annie Murphy reports on Peruvian "Lucha Libro," which she calls "a twist on Lucha Libre, Mexico's version of pro wrestling, where competitors put on masks and pseudonyms to duke it out in a ring." She says: "Peru's Lucha Libro is kind of like that, without the violence. It's literary 'wrestling.' New writers don masks, and head onto a stage where they're given three random words, a laptop hooked up to a gigantic screen, and five minutes to write a short story. At the end of a match, the losing writer has to take off his or her mask. The winner goes on to the next round, a week later. And the grand prize? It's a book contract."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.

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