The judge’s remarks:
Ned Balbo had this to say about his choice:
I’m delighted to select Allison Joseph’s Lexicon as winner of Poetry by the Sea’s Best Book of 2021 award.
Joseph’s Lexicon excels in its vision, intelligence, and emotional range, as well as in its terrific command of craft. Her most playful poems are among her most serious–the absurd Barbie doll of “Manufacture” suggests
broader cultural toxicities–while Joseph’s most serious poems can be playful, too, as seen in “Insurrection,” its furies lightened through hybrid ballad-meets-pantoum form. Joseph is attuned to universal sorrows and joys: “Dead Mothers” looks at the losses
that trail our lives, the sonnet “Grief” traps deep feeling within its skillful “rhyming box,” and the poem “Radios” time-travels through popular culture to end as a paean to married love: “Now we only/listen to the radio locked into the dark/of our car as
we creep past Memphis–/old school love ballads making the night/that much more lush.” Lexicon’s poetic embodiment of language-made-real zooms in and out of human experience, investigating shared tendencies and historical connections with the same facility
that marks Joseph’s most closely observed poems. While “Mistaken Identity” recounts how the author was once mistaken for Rita Dove by a “little/old white lady” attending an Arkansas poetry event, there is no mistaking Allison Joseph’s work for anyone else’s.
Lexicon is a dazzling journey through history, family, grief, and love, with hefty doses of wit and skepticism between. It is a book that confirms the author as a poet of sharp wit, searing vision, and stellar accomplishment.