Friday, November 02, 2007


I never realized until recently how big the CBC looms in my life. Sometimes I feel like I'm on their payroll. This week I was busy getting a submission together for the CBC literary competition (last year I was a finalist.) This weekend I'll be doing a lengthy translation (French to English) for, let's say, a party closely connected to the CBC. It'll pay most of my rent, so in a way I am on their payroll. Last month I did an interview about Communauto car-sharing service that appeared on CBC 6:00 news; this coming Monday, my friend Raphael Bendahan and I will be interviewed by a Montreal Arts reporter in connection with Nina Bruck's book. (Nina will also be interviewed; details about the broadcast, etc. to come.) I drive to work listening to Home Run (or Radio Canada, the French CBC), drive home listening to Ideas. I watch the CBC National news almost every night. I record choice broadcasts that repeat on CBC Newsworld, transcribe parts of them and play them every so often for an advanced class of ESL students. I have a friend who teaches ESL at the CBC, who every so often calls me up with questions. I once taught ESL at the CBC. Because I donated to the Council of Canadians once, I even get junk mail from an organization called Friends of the CBC. So do I love the CBC? Not exactly -- but far more than our Federal Government does.


Anonymous said...

From my own experience, I'd estimate that the CBC Literary Competition is the second most politically correct, blandness-rewarding contest in the country. First place, of course, would have to go to THIS Magazine's 'Great Literary Hunt', or whatever that farce is called.

Brian Campbell said...

You've forgotten Fiddlehead's Ralph Gustafson Award.

The Petra Kenney Award (run out of England, but which also has a Canadian address and regularly awards Canadians) also bequeaths each of its winners an *engraved Royal Brierley Crystal Vase* -- so every time look at your shelf you can remind yourself of how compliant and politically correct you are. On their website, they don't have any winning poems, but lots of awards photographs. All laughably serious danger signs.

As for the CBC competition -- and I just learned you can see and even download the winning poems over the last few years if you click through to the Enroute site -- I now admit I'm not a very comfortable fit there, either. (I've only looked at the poems, particularly last year's winners, but I get the flavour...) Gwen MacEwen won the CBC Literary Award once, but that, I imagine, was an earlier incarnation of the award. As Naomi Wolf put it so well, advertisers are the courteous censors of the Western world. You can add to that corporate sponsors and funding sources in general. Ever since the winners got published in Enroute -- a glossy airline magazine that features fashion ads, interviews with celebrities and innocuous travel articles -- the (a)political/aesthetic proclivities of that award became "crystal" clear. In my case, I have enough poems that display an unselfconscious (if I may say so myself) joyful/ironic/humourous delight in language that I can put together a decent submission, but I also couldn't resist slipping in a a couple of political/aesthetic curveballs too. Most of my work just wouldn't fit at all. The short list seems to be an acknowledgment of writing ability on the part of artist/judges, and the winners, chosen because they are the best fit into Enroute. (That's the way I like to see it, anyway.) If that's the case, the short list may be as far as I can go with that award...

Anonymous said...

What I find so ironic--hell, it cracks me up with laughter!--is the fact that the magazines and institutions that claim to be so advertly/subversively political are the same ones that, when running literary contests, pick winners that are so apolitical and harmless it makes one's eyes bug out and face contort in amazement.

THIS Magazine and its peculiarities is the perfect example of this phenomenal irony. The editors love to run boring article after boring article on the virtues of loudmouth Marxism, protest, etc., yet their annual 'Great Literary Hunt' regularly rewards third-rate submissions that are so pointless they make the light verse in Good Housekeeping sound incendiary. I entered the Great Literary Hunt only once (actually a double entry of four poems = $20). At least three of my pieces were tightly written political satires (re. Mayor Mel Lastman, the Canadian Alliance, etc.)--perfect for a mag like THIS. And what subject areas did the winning poems embrace, pray tell? Well, if memory serves me correctly, one focussed on masturbating while listening to Led Zeppelin in the '70s. I think another was yet another boring account of two Gen-Xers conversing in a coffee shop--no doubt a smoke-free one, of course. Yawn.

I think the folk at THIS Magazine and the like are scared shitless of true anarchy or a real Marxist revolution; for if such were to occur, then they would have nothing to pretend to be concerned about.

Brian Campbell said...

I entered that contest this year, and as I result, I get This Magazine, which will soon become That Magazine (i.e. over there, in the recyling bin) as far as I'm concerned.

Nov/Dec issue had the Great Canadian Literary Hunt winners. The first prize went to a poem that had at least some political content, or rather, implication: The Butchers by one JS MacLean (his first published poem). It's about the slaughter of a pig, it has an interesting rhyme scheme besides, that he executes, for the most part, well. But on a fundamental level, the language and concept don't excite. The first stanza is the worst:

The early winter's air
was filled with one squeal so urgent,
it had to be real.

He's rhyming squeal and real. And he does that kind of thing through the poem. But how many unreal squeals have you heard? (I hear your unreal squeal of laughter: ohhh, that's what he means!). The rest of the poem gets better, though. I won't type it out though. You'll have to go to a newsstand near you.

The second prize winner purports to be about Union Station (well that's what it's called), but doesn't say a hell of a lot to me at all. It seems to fit your description to a tee. The last one is a prose "poem" about night streets in Seoul. "Midnight. Stray cats on the twisting streets of Seoul. She blows on her hands and feels a little death creep in. Behind the wall, sleeping soldiers, their barbed-wire dreams." etc. The first two are quite uninteresting sentences, but then she tries to get interesting: and feels a little death creep in. But is that abstract (should I say, "heavy-handed?") evocation really on the money? The barbed-wire dreams of the soldiers is kinda interesting... but aren't they her projections?

Unfortunately, for me, poems like this don't make me contort with incontollable laughter: they work as a sedative and the awarding of prizes for these... well it's quite demotivating.

You're probably right on your reading of these folks. Are they scared of dangerous poetry? In their masthead I see Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council and Canadian Heritage logos. Afraid, perhaps of biting the hand that feeds them -- or at least, of scaring it away?