August 20, 2010

uncontainable excitement

It looks like once a year I will receive an email from the Poetry Society inviting me to recommend ‘exciting new work’ that I might have come across, commissioned, etc., in the last 12 months to be considered for Carol Ann Duffy’s Ted Hughes Award for New Work, which she set up when she took over from Andrew Motion as Poet Laureate.

Somewhat bemused by the source of this request last year, I emailed them back to ask who the judges were going to be (as at the time of launch they hadn’t been announced). I received an email back telling me who they were – I forget now, look it up somewhere if you need to know – but it was obvious that the judges would be incapable of recognising new work if it held a gun to their heads, which is what I replied to the Poetry Society - to offer up real innovators would be to diminish them and validate a sham. The final communication from them took the form of the equivalent of a shrug.

And surprise, surprise, who should win the inaugural award than Duffy-lite Alice Oswald, “a nature poet who writes ‘very much in the tradition’ of Hughes”.

First of April - new born gentle
Fleeting wakeful on a greenleaf cradle.
Second of April - eyes half open,
faint light moving under lids. Face hidden.
Third of April - bonny and blossoming
in a yellow dress that needs no fastening.


Despite the claim that the award is for "the most exciting contribution to poetry" in the past year, Oswald, whose work is as indistinguishably mainstream as Duffy’s own, beat the ‘fabulous’ shortlist of Andrew Motion and Jackie Kay – on what planet would any of these names be considered exciting? The only adjective that comes to mind for Motion’s writing is turgid. Sue Trehy is an insanely fast reader and so when we travel she takes piles of books. I noticed that a Jackie Kay book had made it into her luggage recently. She doesn’t like me telling her what she should and shouldn’t read so I kept my mouth shut, interested to see what she thought of it. I’ve never seen her not finish a book, she seems to take it as a point of pride to finish if she’s started whatever it's like; but the Kay was thrown down unfinished. "Ordinary beyond belief, she can't write" she declared, "I’ve read better writing by 6th Form teenagers."
Saying “I would have told you so” isn’t as much fun as saying “I told you so”.

The artistic bankruptcy of the hegemony continues to manifest in an implied but fundamentally aimless desire for renewal. With no recourse or capacity to language itself as the source of renewal, much as they dally in writing for children or try their hand at plays, or as reviewed recently, even curating exhibitions (Duffy at the Tate), supposedly this “very exciting award highlights the many forms in which poets work, from poetry collections to verse novels; radio poems and film poems to libretti and verse dramas; individual poems or poem sequences; work for adults or children; through to poetry written for public sculptures, inscriptions, or other contexts”. Except the evidence so far contradicts this empty rhetoric because Oswald won with a rural book like her other rural books except with illustrations by an artist I can’t be bothered to look up. Amusingly Oswald said: “it’s an award that dips beyond the mainstream into some of the more unusual poetic channels”. ‘dips beyond the mainstream’ ! As well as being talentless, the arrogant writers of the hegemony of the banal are cheeky buggers.

Anyway, this year I emailed the Poetry Society back that having seen their understanding of new work in the first year I thought that they had a brilliant sense of humour and I was looking forward to an excitingly risible second year award. I did momentarily wonder what damage it would do to a poet who actually did write something new if they won it accidentally, an award despite itself, but even after only one year it is clear this is inconceivable.


Jane Holland said...

Yup, that about wraps it up.


Steven Waling said...

I suspect the mainstream will go its own sweet way forever, while the really interesting stuff goes on elsewhere. I still sometimes enjoy it, if I switch off half my brain and just go for the ride. It's like reading airport novels: something you do to pass the time on beaches.