Yesterday, I posted a review of Claudia Rankine's Citizen with the headline that it deserved to win the National Book Award. It didn't, but here's why it should have: it's the most timely book on the NBA's list. Consider what's going on in Ferguson, Missouri, right now. Consider that Rankine is the only author on that list who has actually spent time in Ferguson. Consider that last night's ceremony included a microaggression of the type Rankine discusses in her book.

But maybe Citizen's urgency was exactly what kept the book from being chosen. Maybe Louise Gluck was the safer choice, both in terms of content and form. Because Citizen is decidedly not safe. It's technically a book of poetry, but it's highly visual too, and exploratory. It offers no reassuring conclusions, no false hope. It's a book that is highly challenging, for a number of reasons—it demands a lot of its reader, it implicates its reader in many ways, but it's also an examination of the potential for human connection, amid near-fatal political strife. It's confrontational but it's also intimate. If you don't understand what a microaggression is (and, in the interest of full disclosure, I don't think I even sort of did until I read Rankine's book), go get Citizen now. (Or just watch last night's ceremony, which is a whole other thing we need to talk about.)

Citizen also happens to be one of those rare books of poetry that readers and the publishing community are actually almost universally excited about. If we expect our literature to reflect the time in which it was written, if we expect it to push boundaries of form, then authors who are doing that should be recognized.

But increasingly, I'm not at all convinced that the National Book Foundation, the entity behind the NBAs, defines literature that way. If it did, why didn't envelope-pushing, formally innovative nonfiction by women make the longlist for the genre this year? I mean, why didn't any women writers make that list? Offhand, I can think of several who should have. Do the NBA nomination committees just not know Leslie Jamison exists?

Look, I have no problem with Louise Gluck. I love her poetry, too. It's just that Gluck's poetry is wholly traditional. It's poetry that mainly poets will appreciate. But Rankine's Citizen is one of those rare books that captures the time in which it was written, that makes huge leaps formally, that opens the door for dialogue and challenges traditional notions of genre distinctions, all while managing to excite both the nerdiest, most scene-y poets and people who are pretty sure they hate poetry.

Oh wait. I think I know why she didn't win. Because this isn't really about Louise Gluck or even, really, Claudia Rankine. It's about whether or not we acknowledge that literature is allowed to progress and change, like any other discipline. It's about deciding if poetry is for everyone, or just a privileged few. Given publishing's larger diversity problem, this is a decision that major literary organizations should treat with the seriousness it demands. I don't think that happened this week.