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Professor of Literary Arts Keith Waldrop has won the National Book Award for poetry this year for his book "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy," the National Book Foundation announced last week at a ceremony in New York.

The foundation cited "Transcendental Studies" for its unity of poetry and philosophy, calling Waldrop a "transcendentalist for the new millennium." It also praised Waldrop for his language and passion for poetry — emphasizing that, in his work, "life imitates language, and when language becomes these poems, life itself gets more various, more volatile, more vital."

Waldrop's book, published this year by the University of California Press, includes three poem sequences: "Shipwreck in Haven," "Falling in Love through a Description" and "The Plummet of Vitruvius." The poem sequences are experimental collages — phrases from three books from different literary genres ­— that Waldrop selected from various works he compiled. Waldrop was chosen from a group of five finalists.

Waldrop said "Transcendental Studies" is especially different from his other works because it has more collage in it.

"I think of poetry as more charged then other writing," Waldrop said. "There's more feeling and tone to it."

To create the collages, Waldrop wrote the phrases and stanzas free-hand, typed them and arranged them alphabetically.

The National Book Award is one of the most prestigious nationwide prizes for a single book. Judges make their selections based on the author's literary sensibilities and expertise in one of four genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature.

Though the win was surprising, Waldrop said he was pleased with the foundation's decision, explaining that it might make people look at his book who otherwise might have not noticed it.

"It is one of the biggest awards for a writer," said Brian Evenson, professor of literary arts and chair of the department. "It ratifies a writer and enforces that a writer is doing something valuable. It's very nice to be honored."

Waldrop has taught at Brown since 1968. His book, "A Windmill Near Calvary," was a finalist for the 1969 National Book Award.

"What I liked about Keith's work is that the language is rich," Evenson said. "It's beautifully elusive and complicated, but very interesting."

The other National Book Award winners are Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" for fiction, T.J. Stiles' "The First Tycoon" for nonfiction, and Phillip Hoose's "Claudette Colvin" for young people's literature.

Waldrop is currently writing a new book of poetry, as well as a translation in French. "I am always working on something," he said. 


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