Thursday, October 15, 2009

A'right, a'right, a'right

I know you've all been waiting eagerly for my verdict on the GG poetry list. Alas, it doesn't look like there's any dirty dealing this year. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) And there's at least one very worthy book on the shortlist. That book is Carmine Starnino's This Way Out, which I'm very glad to see get the recognition.

I've read none of the other books in their entirety, so can't say with any authority whether they're good or bad choices. But I will say that I'd be amazed if Philip Kevin Paul's book is much good, based on what I've seen of his work in the past. I've read parts of McFadden's book, and what I read was uneven, occasionally slight, occasionally quite lovely; one might say the same of his body of work. I've read almost none of Sina Queyras' work, but the excerpt I saw on Coach House's website didn't make me want to pick up this book; struck me as having, to borrow Keats' phrase, rather palpable designs on its reader. I've been meaning to read more David Zieroth for a while; I saw a pretty nifty suite of poems by him in Event a while back.

It's a pretty symmetrical shortlist, save for the fact that four of the five poets are male. Two are senior poets; two are no longer young but not yet old and both are nominated for their fourth book; the fifth, Paul, is the requisite upstart and a politically progressive choice. I heard Sherman Alexie talking to Eleanor Wachtel on the radio the other day. He said an interesting thing: that native writers are all simultaneously overrated and underrated; overrated by white people, simply because they're native and underrated by natives because they're not native enough. I have to suspect that Paul finds himself on this list because of the former.

If so, this is a pity not just because it's passively racist and does no good politically, but because it prevents a number of noteworthy books from getting the same recognition. This is, on the whole, an underwhelming list. Where is David O'Meara's Noble Gas, Penny Black? Patrick Warner's Mole? Karen Solie's Pigeon? Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip? (I've yet to read it, but I suspect that Robyn Sarah's recently released Pause for Breath would have also made a strong candidate.) If, as seems to be the case most years, there's some felt need to propel a younger writer into the spotlight, why not Jason Guriel for his whipsmart Pure Product? Or James Langer for his earthily lyrical Guns Dogs? All of these books were so good that I have a hard time imagining the four that did make the list being better. Had four (or even two, come on) of these books made the list, Carmine's book would have some bona fide competition. Maybe he does. Maybe I should give the other shortlisted titles a closer look. But I kind of doubt it. And I doubt, seeing what got left off, that Carmine will win, even tho I think he should. We'll see. My bet: Zieroth.

There are two books that are rather too close to me for me to be objective, but that I would have loved to see get some attention: Shane Neilson's Meniscus (which I edited) and Wayne Clifford's Jane Again. Ain't that the problem with these stupid winner-take-all awards...

I'm off on the rails tomorrow. Been a while and thought I'd be called upon no more till, maybe, xmas. But I've lucked out, just in time to delay my search for winter income. Hi ho, hi ho.


Steven W. Beattie said...

Wasn't O'Meara's book a 2008 release?

Zachariah Wells said...

Fall '08; it's on the official list of titles submitted for the '09 award.