Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The $50,000 poem

Hear ye!! Hear Ye!! Calling all poets!! Don't delay. The deadline for the inaugural $50,000 Montreal International Poetry Prize approaches this Friday, July 8th! It's open to all poets - and that means you (who doesn't consider him/herself a poet). Everyone's eligible!

Look, I'm actually fan of poetry. Read the stuff, edited a couple of anthologies, even write the stuff on occasion. So why does this new prize for a poem seem so completely absurd? I keep asking myself, can there possibly by such a thing as a poem worth $50K? We're not talking a novel that takes years to write or a body of literary work; a single poem! And why does it seem that as less people read poetry and buy poetry publications the more poetry prizes there are, and the higher their purse. Clearly, a declining readership has prompted a kind of false, one might even say sad, effort to prop up flaccid, sagging prestige. The spectacle (if that's what it could be when it involves poetry) recalls the compensations needed by the owner of a souped-up muscle car. A new prize will not generate new interest in poetry, if that's what the organizers are after, and certainly not new book buyers. Never have, and never will. As well-intentioned as this prize might be it only serves to make generally ignored poets feel better about themselves, at least one poet anyway. I keep thinking about all that money being put to good use by spreading the largesse; imagine how many poetry collections $50K could buy.

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