Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christian Bök on Poetry Awards

Zach Wells this weekend posted a lengthy interview with Christian Bök on literary success, poetry awards, and his unfortunate tour of duty with the GG: quite an insightful and absorbing read. Some highlights:

What I’ve noticed about the fundamental psychology of the process is that, for most people on a jury, a vote for the winner is actually a kind of vote for yourself. You are hoping, in a certain sense, to see yourself either reflected or embodied in the winner. I think that this fact alone may account in large part for the mediocrity of many prizewinners. I think that, if you are a mediocre assessor , you are going to have difficulty advancing the cause of your betters at the expense of your own career. seems to me that, in the history of art, consensus never explains who the best people are in the short term. Really, I think that any statements about the future importance of an author for posterity’s sake are generally made as wagers by charismatic individuals staking an expert claim against history.

I think that it’s very difficult to be a writer of merit in this country without befriending other writers of merit. In a social network as small as this one, I think that you inevitably become intimate with all the people whom you might upstage or emulate, and certainly, given the limited number of coteries in Canada, you would have a hard time bracketing your involvement with other writers who have a perspective sympathetic to your own.

Well, the ‘no good reason’ has to do with the fact that there are no rules of governance—so they’re making up the reasons as they go. And to me that’s unconscionable for a prize that’s supposed to be this important.

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