Playful Song Called Beautiful by John Blair is the co-winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize for 2015. Blair is the author of the award-winning collection of short stories American Standard, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Award, one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for short fiction, as well as three prize-winning collections of poetry.
Blair’s collection compliments co-winners Tigue’s collectionSystem of Ghosts as it takes different subject matter and creates the same type of art. Playful Song Called Beautiful includes science as a main feature. This year it seems that geology and plate tectonics are popular poetry themes. Blair, however, takes the reader father with references to quantum physics and he does it in a way that seems very natural and flowing. There is no forcing the subject into verse; It is completely unpretentious. There is even a play on quark particles and with Joyce’s “Three Quarks for Muster Mark.”
There are passing references made through the book of famous historical figures like Rumi, Faulkner, Nietzsche, Oswald, Goethe, and Galileo. The wide range of writers, thinkers, and even the assassin is mixed with a variety of locations including Oklahoma. Fort Sill, Oklahoma is the home of Geronimo’s unmolested grave and Tulsa, the home of Six Flags Over Jesus — Oral Roberts University.
The title is represented by a short poem taken from a translation on a Chinese children’s record. It is followed by other badly translated into English phrases. Surprisingly, it works very well — enjoyable so. Blair does an excellent job of combining complex subjects into poetry and making them more understandable than they are in prose. Converting sophisticated subject matter into enjoyable reading is an art in itself. An excellent collection and well deserving of the Iowa Poetry Prize.