Friday, April 11, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #345- Karen Solie (Editor): The 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology

As I've been back and forth the country a lot lately, I've gone through more than a few books at 30,000 feet. I've also come to realize that poetry books make the most excellent travel companions. I find that it's easier to put those books aside between poems and perhaps ponder them in the process-- your head's already in the clouds anyway.

The 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology was a recent purchase from Yellowknife. Having two cancelled flights, I'd already gone through the two books that I'd taken with me and was desperate for more. I was drawn to this one as I figured it promised to be a way to keep up with contemporary poets.

This anthology is essentially a sampler, offering 5-10 poems by those shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2007 (Don McKay was the Canadian winner, while Charles Wright was the International winner). It's a pretty good way to get a taste for each poet's work and decide which, if any, to explore further. This book has poems by Ken Babstock (the only one I had previously read), Paul Farley, Rodney Jones, Don McKay, Frederick Seidel, Priscila Uppal and Charles Wright.
At first I was a little put off with the book, published by Anansi Press. Splattered all over the jacket flap are praises, not for the poets themselves, but for the prize. Of course, the $50,000 award given annually to a Canadian and an International poet is surely coveted by most poets, but something about the blurbs didn't sit well with me. It was as if the awards people were trying too hard to convince us of their relevance. Was it really necessary, for instance, to quote MacLean's in calling it "The world's premier international poetry prize" ?
That small contentious issue aside, I'm pleased to say I enjoyed the poems. Personal favourites were Paul Farley's "Tramp in Flames," Rodney Jones's "TV" and Priscila Uppal's "Poodle in the Painting." I also enjoyed the introductions to each poet that preceded their work, though at times I found them too hyperbolic. I can't deny that all of these are quite fine poets, but statements like "there can be few poets whose work is so memorable" and "he is a poet of great originality" do a disservice to them, not to mention making us question how they are able to come up with such a rare list year after year. While I do think, as with any good poet, these people make us think at the world differently, if even for a brief moment, I didn't see too much in the way of experimentation with form. But just as with musicians, there's something to be said for those that constantly reinvent themselves and play with different genres, and there's something to be said for those that constantly aim for perfection within a specific genre.

Tramp in Flames
by Paul Farley

Some similes act like heat shields for re-entry
to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.
We can say Flame on! to invoke the Human Torch
from the Fantastic Four. We can switch to art
and imagine Dali at this latitude
doing CCTV surrealism.

(Read the rest here.)


jama said...

Thanks for spotlighting this collection. It'll be a nice resource to discover new poets!

Teena in Toronto said...

I finished my 10th Canadian book and it was good! Whoohoo!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I've been finding that travel books are surprisingly good for reading while travelling. You'd think it would be overkill, but no.

John Mutford said...

Jama: They put out annual anthologies, so I can see them being a great collector's item.

Barbara: That's funny. Do you read travel books of where you're currently visiting, or elsewhere?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I did actually read a book about someplace else, but I think both situations would work.