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The Los Angeles Times 1985 Book Prize Nominees

October 06, 1985

The sixth annual Los Angeles Times Book Prize program takes place this year on Nov. 1.

Today we publish excerpts from the five books nominated for the poetry prize.

ROBERT PENN WARREN, New and Selected Poems, 1923-1985 (Random House).

Arizona Midnight

The grief of the coyote seems to make

Stars quiver whiter over the blankness which

Is Arizona at midnight. In sleeping-bag,

Protected by the looped rampart of anti-rattler horsehair rope,

I take a careful twist, grinding sand on sand,

To lie on my back. I stare. Stars quiver, twitch,

In their infinite indigo. I know

Nothing to tell the stars, who go,

Age on age, along tracks they understand, and

The only answer I have for the coyote would be

My own grief, for which I have no

Tongue--indeed, scarcely understand.

Eastward, I see

No indication of dawn, not yet ready for the scream

Of inflamed distance,

Which is the significance of day.

But dimly I do see

Against that darkness, lifting in blunt agony,

The single great cactus. Once more I hear the coyote

Wail. I strain to make out the cactus. It has

Its own necessary beauty.

ALLEN GINSBERG, Collected Poems, 1947-1980 (Harper & Row).


Homage Kenneth Koch

If I were doing my Laundry I'd wash my dirty Iran

I'd throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa,

put all the birds and elephants back in the jungle,

I'd wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,

Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,

Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium

out of Love Canal

Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain the Sludge

out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,

Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds

so snow return white as snow,

Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie

Then I'd throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent


Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the

tattletail Gray of U.S. Central American police state,

& put the planet in the drier & let it stand 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came

out clean.

Boulder, April 26, 1980

VIKRAM SETH, The Humble Administrator's Garden (Carcanet).

The Humble Administrator's Garden

A plump gold carp nudges a lily pad

And shakes the raindrops off like mercury,

And Mr. Wang walks round. "Not bad, not bad."

He eyes the Fragrant Chamber dreamily.

He eyes the Rainbow Bridge. He may have got

The means by somewhat dubious means, but now

This is the loveliest of all gardens. What

Do scruples know of beauty anyhow?

The Humble Administrator admires a bee

Poised on a lotus, walks through the bamboo wood,

Strips half a dozen loquats off a tree

And looks about and sees that it is good.

He leans against a willow with a dish

And throws a dumpling to a passing fish.

X. J. KENNEDY, Cross Ties, Selected Poems (University of Georgia).

Cross Ties

Out walking ties left over from a track

Where nothing travels now but rust and grass,

I could take stock in something that would pass

Bearing down Hell-bent from behind my back:

A thing to sidestep or go down before,

Far-off, indifferent as that curfew's wail

The evening wind flings like a sack of mail

Or close up as the moon whose headbeam stirs

A flock of cloud to make tracks. Down to strafe

Bristle-backed grass a hawk falls--there's a screech

Like steel wrenched taut till severed. Out of reach

Or else beneath desiring, I go safe,

Walk on, tensed for a leap, unreconciled

To a dark void all kindness.

When I spill

The salt I throw the Devil some and, still,

I let them sprinkle water on my child.

SEAMUS HEANEY, Station Island

(Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

La Toilette

The white towelling bathrobe

ungirdled, the hair still wet,

first coldness of the underbreast

like a ciborium in the palm.

Our bodies are the temples

of the Holy Ghost. Remember?

And the little, fitted, deep-slit drapes

on and off the holy vessels

regularly? And the chasuble

so deftly hoisted? But vest yourself

in the word you taught me

and the stuff I love: slub silk.


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