John Drury Awarded Major Poetry Prize

To most people the terms “undercover agent” and “poet” sound almost antithetical. But not John Drury, whose work epitomizes French author Jean Cocteau’s statement: “The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” Drury’s ability to see and hear recently won him the prestigious Paris Review Prize in Poetry for

The Refugee Camp

, his book-length sequence of poems.

The collection is based on his 1971-1973 experiences at the West German Refugee Center near Nuremberg, where he worked undercover for the U.S. Army, posing as a civilian in the American liaison office.

He recalls, “When refugees were ‘processed,’ they had to come to our office (as well as others, such as those of the United Nations and various philanthropic organizations) and get signatures. We used that opportunity to have them fill out questionnaires. If a refugee had military information (as a border guard who had escaped to the west certainly would), we’d interview the person and invite him to travel to Munich to be interrogated.”

The Refugee Camp

recounts Drury’s observations of the events and people he encountered during his stay at the center. One of the most compelling is Section 36 of the 48-part title sequence:

Note how a man walks carefully

on pebbles by the roadside, trying to coax

the soles of his second-hand shoes to last longer.

Note how the benches in a terminal feel softer

than the stares of passing passengers

who pull their luggage on wheels behind them.

Note how the stories about fruit trees,

blossoming on a pool’s bank, refresh more

than the lost oasis ever will.

Note how some nights, the headlights

of trucks jab like charging horns

just before the bull gores the befuddled matador,

how some nights, an angel with two swords

or two crutches approaches without expression.

Note how random shots after midnight

give way to the shrapnel of dreams in the morning.

Note how security forces

strap on their helmets, their bullet-proof vests,

their holsters, their extra clips,

how even the police dogs wear gas masks.

This book, which will be published by Zoo Press, is not the first for the 20-year McMicken veteran. His others include

The Disappearing Town, Burning the Aspern Papers, Creating Poetry

, and

The Poetry Dictionary

. A revised paperback of the latter will be published by Writer’s Digest later this year.

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