Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I grant you that...

Raphael Bendahan, a friend of mine & fellow poet with whom I've set up a little chapbook press, has written an insightful post on the grant writing process, on a new blog he has set up. He's sat on many juries himself, so has some trenchant things to say about that particular game.


R. W. Watkins said...

Bollocks. It's knowing and being on blow job terms with the adjudicators that really counts.

Brian Campbell said...

When I read that out to him, Raphael laughed long and hard and replied, "It's not blowjobs that count, it's bending over and taking it up the kazoo!"

I then asked him to tell me seriously just how incestuous the process is. He replied -- in all honesty as he put it -- that there is so much competition out there -- the schools are churning out arts grads in overwhelming numbers, as he points out in his article -- that there is a good chance that the adjudicators will not know any of the applicants they are called on to evaluate. The applicants send in their proposals long before the juries are even appointed, which usually takes place some weeks or months *after* the submission deadline. That's why the process can take long -- 6 months or more. But at least it ensures a reasonable degree of fairness. He himself has won grants without knowing anyone on the jury, and awarded grants to applicants he didn't know but whose work genuinely impressed him, out of an array of applicants all of whom he didn't know. At the same time, it has happened that a judge was biased and argued in favour of an applicant who he did know or have a connection with. It does happen. Part of "being known" is of course "being there" -- at functions, through performance and publication, as a member of organizations, etc. so that people will connect a face with a name. At the same time, as he says, the process is skewed by the numbers, and the increasing levels of bullshit quite extraneous to the art itself that seems to be required to get ahead.

If the judges in the Canada Council were appointed and announced before the submission process was begun -- as often happens in magazine awards, ARC's poem of the year award being an example -- that would be grounds for suspicion: judges could encourage friends to apply because they know they'll be on the jury, applicants could tailor their proposals around the tastes of a judge, etc.

Of course, "things do happen" -- check out for evidence of insider trading at American poetry competitions, for instance.