Russell Smith wrote recently in the Globe & Mail about his renewed enthusiasm for poetry! He emphasized the variety within a new generation of poets, with specific reference to The Walrus Poetry Prize, and a direct quote from me:
You know where Canadian literature is excelling? In its poetry. There hasn’t been so much challenging work around – so much that is playful, amusing, dazzling or simply exasperating – for as long as I can remember. Some of this has to do with a new generation of tough-minded editors, some of it has to do with the fading of a certain kind of weepy folksiness, and a lot of it has to do with the Internet. Quite simply, it is easier to read and share poems now, and people are actually doing it.
Exhibit A: The Walrus magazine, a general-interest journal that bravely publishes poems every month, has been spreading the word online about their “readers’ choice” competition. They asked for submissions of individual poems, then their poetry editor, the truculent Michael Lista, selected his five favourites (blind – that is, he saw no names). Lista has posted the five finalists and is asking for a public vote on the best. (You can vote at the Walrus’s website; voting ends Sept. 30.) The winner gets $1,000. More importantly, the poem will be widely linked to and forwarded, which means it will be read, unlike prize-winning poems of my youth.
Also unlike the prize-winning poems of my youth – which tended to be about aurora borealis and the great noble sorrow of being descended from rugged settlers – the ones selected for this shortlist are amazingly, some might say frustratingly, dense and intellectual. They are not about birds. (Well, only one is.) All of them contain at least one utterly cryptic and barely grammatical conglomeration of words, as if the goal of the best poetry is to flirt with the nonsensical, to see if some suggestions of meaning – maybe just some mood or personal association – will be sparked by the centrifugal force created by a bunch of words wildly spinning together. “We leap magpie flat-footed, shriek obsidian/ disbelief tidings,” writes Stevie Howell, for example. Obsidian disbelief tidings aren’t things I’m familiar with or can picture in any way, but then I think in a frustratingly direct manner.