In case you haven’t heard, 2011 National Book Award nominations were released in mid-October, and among the five titles (the winner will be announced November 16th in New York) named is Nikky Finney’s latest collection, Head Off & Split. I read the book this summer after attending a workshop with her, but have been surprised to discover many of my colleagues do not know her work at all.
In Head Off & Split, Finney invokes many influential African-American figures–Rosa Parks, and Condoleezza Rice, for example, in addition to a girl struck by lightning and a woman stranded in the floods of Katrina. While the collection deals with particular historical moments and people, and while she engages in a specific dialogue, these are in no way limiting; rather her collection serves as a much needed light in contemporary American poetry. Finney’s dedication to what can be salvaged, her unfaltering consciousness and conscientiousness, and her dedication to the sublime power of language demand our attention. This fourth book is stunning, a definite must-read.