On Sept. 15, The National Book Foundation announced that Professor of English Lawrence Raab’s poetry collection, Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts, was on the long list for the National Book Award for Poetry.
Raab explained that his collection was inspired by the beckoning of his abandoned poems and the long solitary hours of contemplating and writing in his studio as his dog lay beside him.
“The whole process was like piecing a puzzle together and not knowing what the picture was,” Raab said. “The pleasure of writing is surprising yourself into writing something you didn’t know you could say.” Raab gives similar advice to his students in his classes, which is that they should not know ahead of time what they are going to write.
Raab believes that there is some connection between the different poems in his book.
“I like to think of the book as more than a collection of disparate poems,” Raab said. The ordering of the poems is one way they are connected. Raab chose the order of the poems in order to produce certain effects, such as when there is a transition from a poem in the first-person to one in the second-person.
There are four categories of the National Book Award: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young peo-ples’ literature. Each category has ten books in its long list. The five finalists for each award will be announced on Oct. 14, and the winner in each category will be announced on Nov. 19.
“It’s always a pleasure to know that somewhere out there, there are people who are reading your book and liking it, and sometimes liking it enough to attempt to try to bring it to the attention of more people by giving it a prize or nominating it for a prize,” Raab said.
Raab also acknowledged that winning an award can bring even more attention to a book.
In the past, Raab has won the Bess Hopkin Prize by the Poetry magazine and the Academy of American Poets’ Prize. This is Raab’s second National Book Award nomination; his poetry collection What We Don’t Know About Each Other was also nominated in the same category in 1993.
The book has gathered plenty of critical acclaim.
“His poems lead you into, then trap you, in strange worlds, boxes constructed of story, logic, and aphorism, which then are revealed to be exactly like life itself … They are also often beautiful, bewildered, disquieting, and full of paradoxical laughter and contemplative solace,” a review by Tony Hoagland, author of Twenty Poems That Could Save America, said. “Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts is a tender, lonely, deeply intelligent tour of that distinctive country of the soul.”
Hoagland’s review is reflective of the sentiments of the book’s general readership: the audience at Raab’s recent poetry reading session at Water Street Books was equally captivated.