Saturday, December 1, 2007
The uneasy fit between poetry and awards
I've been a regular reader of Alex Good's website for interesting links and thoughtful book reviews for some time now (www.goodreports.net). He recently held his fourth annual Runaway Jury (with Carmine Starnino and Paul Vermeersch) to reassess the GG poetry selections. The most interesting comment I think came from Carmine who said "This country is bursting at the seams with word-happy, form-shifting poets hungry for change and constantly on the look-out for what Auden called "new rhetoric." But rather than tracking this large-scale shift, this leap into "new rhetoric," this year’s jury produced a shortlist that feels like a standing hop." Zach Wells, another one my favourites, also commented on this (http://www.zachariahwells.blogspot.com/). Carmine may be right, but my thought was that the most interesting moves artistically have always taken place away from the centre, at the margins. Why should the Canada Council (or any other cultural institution) be expected to "track" changes in artistic innovation. They are by definition certifiers of a cultural norm, a standard that is acceptable and typically already widely accepted ("bluechip," Carmine calls it.) The Domanski choice is eminently understandable in this regard (as is the tendency to award authors for their careers instead of their books.) In the arts there is no more uncomfortable fit then awards for poetry. This also begs the question of the role of public funding for poetry production and publication and whether it is relevant and even needed any longer. It seems to me that poetry is flourishing in print and online because the means are available to inexpensively produce, re-produce and widely distribute it. The same can not be said of any other artform which requires huge resources and benefits from public funding (visual arts, dance, theatre, film). The public subsidizing of poetry publications and poetry-related events seems to have achieved very little with respect to generating new audiences, more book buyers or more proficient and relevant practioners. I don't think we should expect otherwise.