Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize, 2005, selected by Ellen Bryant Voigt
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In the provocative, finely wrought and, at every turn, original poems of Annus Mirabilis, Sally Ball examines the human impulse to know—to master a thing by knowing it—and to make of mastery and knowledge a clean equation. A bracingly keen observer of human nature, Ball uncovers the limitations of that thinking, the many ways in which it can only bring us face to face with near-unbearable truths—about ourselves, about those we love, about the world as we’d all this time thought we knew it. How to reckon with that part of us that we suspect is merciless? What of the nature of regret that attends the flesh? And if to love another comes to mean obliteration, an effacement of self, then how do we love, and why? In a tradition of intellectual inquiry like that of Newton and Leibniz—those rival inventors of the calculus, whose will to conquer by knowledge also figures here both as model and as dark lesson—Ball reminds us that there is no calculus to explain away our restless, mortal selves. What we have instead, with luck, is the grace of art—of which Annus Mirabilis is an accomplished and elegant example.
The elegant and crafty poems of Annus Mirabilis enact a kind of conversation between personal life and the world of science. The beautiful shapes of equations intersect with the messy formulae of everyday relationships, producing poems that embrace and illuminate “the heart’s ability to lift/ & plummet, simultaneously.” Sally Ball’s lovely, graceful first book catches hold of this arc of thought and feeling: “How the mind opens and closes, how it replies to wonder…”
Sally Ball’s Annus Mirabilis is a compelling and original work exploring the myriad relations between suffering and knowledge. In poems that alternate between quick-wittedness, lyric meditation, and sustained descriptions of the figures and shapes of the world, she demonstrates how wonder is the companion of limit, love the companion of fear, and joy the companion of finitude.”
Haunted agitation and desire are made clear and forceful… The way [“Night Dances”] generates erotic feeling recalls religious feeling in the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Ball’s poem deserves the compliment of the comparison.
—Robert Pinsky, Washington Post Book World
Ambitious and finely wrought… The stories that weave through Annus Mirabilis, even those that involve famous historical people, are terrifyingly recognizable…. Sally Ball’s poems take on and wrestle into shape a topic both ordinary and mystifying—the workings of the human mind.
—Sarah Kennedy, West Branch