Gregory Pardlo, Jeffrey Brown and Robert Morgan.
Gregory Pardlo made national news recently when Digest (Four Way; paperback, $15.95), his second collection of poems, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. A teaching fellow at Columbia University, Pardlo was an unexpected winner; his book had been rejected by all the major publishers when he submitted it in 2010. His poetry, like his acclaim, is something of a sleeper. “Digest” winds up slowly with a list-like poem that gives way to more fluid writing and then to bolder, freer verse. The poems draw heavily on everyday life, exploring various facets of fatherhood, urban experience and its anxieties. The speaker often keeps one foot — or even a toe — in academic thought and phrasing, as in the wonderful series of poems about cars, each titled after a philosopher or theologian. Pardlo knows how to layer his language so that complexity and intensity build in a matter of lines, as with the poem “Occam.” It opens with “knots of cars” stuck in holiday traffic; then, moments later, the speaker asks, “So who is really/ driving the soapbox you find transporting your thoughts while/ you inch the highway like the Pope’s bubble-mobile?” In the best of these poems, Pardlo creates a unique, compelling voice that takes poetry and readers to unexpected places.