Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One more tainted Golly G award

Zachariah Wells has been providing a blow-by-blow account of this year's tainted GG Award for Poetry, won by Jacob Sheier for his More to Keep Us Warm. This article in Quill and Quire sums up the details and latest reactions. There's been lots of chatter at Book Ninja, too. Seems one of the judges, Pier Georgio de Ciccio, blurbed the winning book; another, Di Brandt co-wrote a poem in it, and both are mentioned in the acknowlegements -- indeed, the winning author, gives special thanks Di Brandt for her "ongoing advice, support and feedback in the process of writing this book." Even if the writing was absolutely stellar, the obvious connections tarnish this award & the prestige of the prize. But I'm inclined to agree with Fraser Sutherland's review that appeared in the Globe and Mail a few days back -- that a lot of it is pretty facile stuff. See for yourself (just scroll down). That all this end with a bang, not a whimper, indeed. would have had a field day with this one.

It's hard to imagine these particular judges couldn't feel the heat coming from this decision... nor the author. Readers are encouraged to write letters of concern & protest, as Wells has done, to those in the Canada council in charge.


Stephen Morrissey said...

Yo Brian,

Excellent post as usual. However, there is too much to say on this subject and too negative to not be taken as one of the sore losers. Eventually the whole prize business will begin to unravel, maybe it already has, and fewer people will be fooled by poetry prizes as indicating excellence in poetry. They don't.

Brian Campbell said...

I have a guiding principle on these matters: when I win a prize, it indicates excellence; when others win a prize, I think, hmmmm, was that a fluke?

Just kidding, of course. Actually, the reverse is as often true. And I'm just as much a sucker as anyone else. But when I see a gold seal on a book for a GG or Pulitzer or whatever, I'm as drawn to it as Stephano and Trinculo to the golden garb in The Tempest.

Anonymous said...

It makes me feel so good to witness all my longtime assertions, criticisms and predictions being increasingly supported and made manifest on an almost daily basis. My compilation of critical essays and comments, The Government Owns You! (linked from my KCN page), is looking more and more like a prophetic manifesto. If this was the 18th or 19th Century, it would make an excellent street-level pamphlet to get me expelled from 'Oxbridge'.

My favourite Newfoundlandic example of this sort of artistic contest 'rigging' took place close to 15 years ago, when local folksinger Anita Best actually co-wrote one of the compositions she was judging in an Atlantic-Canadian music competition!

Like I've said time and time again, the Canadian literary establishment thrives on incest, sycophancy, art/reputation-compromising state funds, and solace-seeking in shared mediocrity.

Brian Campbell said...

Well put. But there's still some good stuff out there, and although I also try to keep my eye trained on poetry in the US and elsewhere (suddenly I imagine my eyes swinging around in all directions like a Monty Python animation), I'm slowly compiling my own pantheon of contemporary Canadian poets. Among the under-fifty poets who impress me (either at times or all the time) are George Elliott Clarke, Barbara Nickel, David O'Meara, Maurice Meirau, and Katia Grubisic. There are also some uncelebrated late bloomers who I hope will leave a lasting mark (you can never know nowadays -- they could get lost indefinitely in the deluge): Barbara Pelman, Elizabeth Glenny, Maxianne Berger, Nina Bruck. (I edited Nina's work, but that doesn't prevent me from having an opinion!)

The way the awards are run, I think, could be changed to minimize literary incest. More about that soon.