This year, the Small Press Traffic board of directors begins a new tradition with the SPT Book Awards. Compiled from a list of board members’ favorite books of 2001 plus a lifetime achievement category, the award recipients recall to us the best possibilities of energy, engagement, intelligence and imagination in the writing that SPT works to cultivate and promote. This year’s honorees are presented below in alphabetical order, followed by the lifetime achievement winner.

Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups (Tender Buttons) works at what is often an impasse in writing about sex, pushing the usual confessional scene beyond the institutional and rhetorical horizons that often ensure its triumph over the matter confessed. Organs, surfaces and fluids act in this book in such profusion and with such rapid syntactic enjambment that no decision can assign their parts to stable subjects for very long. Relocating this "moment of decision" to the interior of each sentence and body, Bellamy shifts the ethical demand of confession from the "penitent"/narrator to the "confessor"/auditor, ensuring that the reader plays along and that judgments regarding sex and writing are formed in the act, not in an exempt outside.

Along very different lines, this refusal of exemption characterizes Judith Goldman’s Vocoder (Roof), a rambunctious book of some terrifying wrath and fury. Words just don’t do what they should, neither will human beings. Poetry can’t disguise any longer the need for an adequate politics, a need as basic as the need for air and water. There’s so much to admire in Vocoder -- the attention Goldman pays to codes of all sorts, the 19th century refusal to sit back and take it, the "no in thunder"voice we have missed since the original American Renaissance. We put this high on our list of this year’s best books for its originality, daring, passion and relentless call to justice.

The flipside of such commitment is that tried and true postmodern poetics which finds a world of fragments ready to hand for inclusion in form as an administrative schema, or one-dimensionally volatized into a metaphorics of flux. Faced with such options, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk’s Ogress Oblige (Krupskaya) would prefer not to, defiantly occupying the hidden abode of the fragmentis production. Here archaic dictions plead for an authorizing literary context under bombardment from a contemporary vernacular of blunt refusal and blank disgust, while the bigger bombs of geopolitics fall as a catch in our small-time bohemian drifts. Lusk’s method stutters us back to the sites of interpellation, refusing to forget the violence of those moments whose repression is all too often the ground of prosody. Surplus -- as expropriated value, as excess, as remainder -- refuses to be siphoned off, and spare parts blurt out a general strike against the sutured whole.

Kim Rosenfield’s Good Morning-- Midnight-- (Roof), at its core, challenges the separation of pleasure and social critique. Here feminist theory simultaneously picks apart a feast of fashion and (gendered) self-help discourse while taking delight in the festivities. Rosenfield's is a carnivalesque aesthetic that combines a strong ear for the pure pop of advertising lingo and a surgeon's touch when it comes to cut'n'pasting. She avoids easy moralizing over consumerism aesthetics.

In Jocelyn Saidenberg’s Cusp (Kelsey St.), position is implicated in the critical turn that would dislocate it. There is such sobriety, such a questioning concern for what is necessary and justifiable in these poems -- also doubt as to how to determine such necessity n that one is tempted to consider Cusp a dark book, at least a somber one. But this is that rare type of darkness that steadies and reminds the mind, the opposite of what is easy and therefore forgettable. Cusp reads as the pure product of a specific dynamic: the one that exists between trying to see things (or words) at the level of their form, while still striving to recall their practical application.

Finally, SPT’s board members are pleased to name Carl Rakosi as the inaugural recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award. His early appearance in An Objectivist Anthology situates him in a strain of American modernism whose clarity of method and depth of ethical and political engagement exert a profound influence on all sorts of poetic endeavor today. His commitment to the demands of such work is evident through his celebrated New Directions publications, Amulet (1967), and Ere-Voice (1971), and continues into two beautiful recent titles published by Etruscan Books, The Earth Suite (1997) and The Old Poet’s Tale (1999). Throughout, Rakosi has worked not so much after Pound’s "make it new," as after the imperative to make it exact -- both precise and exacting. Perhaps the best characterization of his work remains that offered by George Oppen, introducing Rakosi at a March 12, 1975 reading for the Poetry Center: "It seems to me that Rakosi is the most polished of poets, but his is a strange and unheard of polish, made of distance and intimacy, marvelously elegant: a place few have been carried to."

Compiled by Taylor Brady, David Buuck, Norma Cole, Brent Cunningham, and Kevin Killian, with thanks to the SFSU Poetry Center.

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