Breadth of Good
I guess I’m a little slow on the uptake with this, but leave me alone, I’ve only been blogging for like a week. Anyway, the Governor General’s English-Language Poetry Award shortlists came out recently amid the usual October barrage of fiction nominees national and global, offering the five titles its trio of judges liked the best.
It’s a pretty good list, and an important one after last year’s simultaneous-breakdown-of-systemic-and-moral-norms. The GGs probably only had a year or two to get it right before fading into the shadow of the bigger, sexier, more privately-financed Griffin Award. Here’s the list the jury came up with:
- David W. McFadden, “Be Calm, Honey” (Mansfield Press)
- Philip Kevin Paul, “Little Hunger” (Nightwood Editions)
- Sina Queyras, “Expressway” (Coach House Books)
- Carmine Starnino, “This Way Out” (Gaspereau Press)
- David Zieroth, “The Fly in Autumn” (Harbour Publishing)
I’m familiar with three of these things, and I liked all thre. I don’t know “Philip Kevin Paul” and originally thought they were three separate people (like “Peter, Paul, and Mary”). But apparently it’s one guy, a First-Nations poet from out west, and he’s pretty good. I haven’t read David Zieroth’s The Fly in Autumn, either. My only real surprise was that Anansi’s trio of well-received books (by Solie, Langer, and Warner) went 0/3. Oh well, with the year they had last year, one can’t feel too bad.
The three that I know are they Queyras, the McFadden, and the Starnino. The jury should be applauded for showing love to poets with such an incredible breadth of styles. The same three people liked both Carmine and David’s work? This is impressive, and speaks to a group (namely Janice Kulyk Keefer, John Pass, and George Murray) that could balance their own tastes and preoccupations with those shared by the rest of the national poetry mob.
Before counting McFadden as the representative “anecdotal raconteur” on the list, we need to remember that “Be Calm, Honey” is a book of fairly stringent sonnets. Likewise, before classifying the Starnino as formalism’s entry into the five, we need to admit that it made the list in part because it’s much more warm-to-the-touch than the occasionally antiseptic collections that came before it.
Sina Queyras’ Expressway was a really great book, and exciting to me personally as it traveled many of the same roads (sorry, that’s my only pun for this week) that I’m doing now in my own work. It might be the favourite, but who knows what three people in a room are going to choose. As for my own favourite, it’s hard to say. I liked all three books I’ve read, but This Way Out likely stands as the biggest surprise, and perhaps the most memorable of the three because of that.
The thing to do now is to go read those other two selected titles. If it ever stops raining, I’ll make that my afternoon.