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Chicago's Poetry Pulitzer

"New Jersey native Peter Balakian has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for poetry," notes.

"Balakian, 65, who grew up in Teaneck and Tenafly, wins for Ozone Journal (University of Chicago Press, March 2015), a book of poems that the Pulitzer board says "bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty."

"The book's title poem centers on Balakian's experience excavating bones of victims of the Armenian genocide with a TV crew and weaves in other parts of his life."


From the University of Chicago Press:

"The title poem of Peter Balakian's Ozone Journal is a sequence of fifty-four short sections, each a poem in itself, recounting the speaker's memory of excavating the bones of Armenian genocide victims in the Syrian desert with a crew of television journalists in 2009.


"These memories spark others - the dissolution of his marriage, his life as a young single parent in Manhattan in the nineties, visits and conversations with a cousin dying of AIDS - creating a montage that has the feel of history as lived experience.

"Bookending this sequence are shorter lyrics that span times and locations, from Nairobi to the Native American villages of New Mexico.

"In the dynamic, sensual language of these poems, we are reminded that the history of atrocity, trauma, and forgetting is both global and ancient; but we are reminded, too, of the beauty and richness of culture and the resilience of love."


In 2013, Balakian spoke at the Illinois Holocaust Museum "for the occasion of the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and also commenced his work with the museum as Senior Scholar for the Armenian Genocide exhibit it will mount in 2015, for the genocide's 100th anniversary."

In 2015, Balakian spoke at the museum and "called genocide denial the last step of genocide," according to the Tribune.

From that talk:


Balakian appeared on Charlie Rose in 2009. In two parts:


"Balakian, 65, has published seven collections of poetry, but readers are more likely to know his nonfiction, particularly his writing on the Armenian genocide, such as The Burning Tigris, published in 2004. His memoir, Black Dog of Fate, was also widely praised," the Washington Post notes.

"Prose books get public attention in a way that poems don't," Balakian said by phone from the University of Illinois where he was giving a reading when he heard the good news. "But my productivity as a poet has been pretty continuous. My first book was in 1980. Poetry has been the center of my life from the start even when I was writing in other genres."

"Don Share, the editor of Poetry magazine, was surprised but pleased with the Pulitzer committee's choice. 'This book seemed slightly overlooked,' he said. 'And yet Balakian has been a fine poet - and prose writer - for decades, so it feels very just.'"


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 19, 2016

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