Knotting-Off the Aughts: An Introduction to Vox Pop’s Ten Favourites
Starting shortly and continuing through the final weeks of this wholly awful decade, and amid the wreckage and nostalgia of a thousand other retrospectives, I’m going to count down my ten favourite collections of Canadian poetry from the years 2000 to 2009, inclusive. I’ve made the list, am altering it only occasionally, and I have to say it is both massively rewarding as a store of personal memories, and embarrassingly pat and jingoistic, the stuff of People Magazine and angle-obsessed newsmen. But it’s done, and it is what it is. I imagine some people will hate it on concept, while others will hate the individual choices. Still others might agree with every pick and or be introduced to collections they’ve never heard of, or reintroduced to ones they’ve forgotten.
To launch us forward on the theme of ordered lists, here’s an ordered list of some rules and ambitions:
- Ranking poetry is completely ridiculous, and the ranking of the poetry will reflect that ridiculousness. As we are unable to ever agree on anything, being a small group (poetry-reading Canadians) but also an immensely argumentative one, specific delineations of quality are impossible to make with any of the scientific structure they suggest. What I’m interested in are questions of theme and representation. Essentially, what kind of a decade has it been? And through that, what kind of collections best express it? What aesthetic waves and counterreformations have seen surges in these last ten years, and what are their representative titles? Because quantifying quality is impossible, I want to look for books reach out to broader ideas and, in ways both direct and indirect, speak for them. This isn’t how I’m picking the ten, the ten are just my favourites, but it is how I’m deciding on order among them.
- The list will save itself from the threat of too much obnoxiousness by being essentially personal, not pre-emptively canonical. I’m not in a position to try and guess what, if any, of the 1,000+ books we’ve put out as a community will be read in 20 years, and I wouldn’t want to be placed in such a position. I haven’t read even half of them, or anywhere close. Therefore, this is a list of “favourites”. I’m leaving “best” for the future, including my future, in which I’ll likely come across many more titles produced over the ten years in question.
- As a personal list, as much attention will be paid to the act of reading the books as anything else. I want to keep track of where I got these books, if I bought, borrowed, or found them. I want to talk about acquisition, recommendation, and the thousand flickers of suspended energy that go into a book-buying decision. I want to remember what was happening when they were read, where my copies might be now. I want the list to be internalized first, and shared with this blog’s little corner of the internet readership second.
- As an internalized list, I want to pay attention to the many struggles built into list-making. How does one treat books by people one knows as friends? What if our attempt at objectivity crosses over into a negative bias? Making this list was agonizingly hard, and I’d like to talk a bit about why it was hard as the book-by-book reveal goes on.
Anyway, consider this the introduction. My #10 favourite is coming soon. Also, I’d like to call on my fellow bloggers, poets, and enthusiasts to think about their own list. Maybe you’ll struggle to think of ten. Maybe you’ll struggle to limit it to 30. Anyway, I’m interested in hearing from you. Go to the contacts sheet and email me your ideas, or blog them up yourself, I’d be glad to link up. Let me know how all this shrinking goes on your end.
All best, Jake.
PS: Now that the show has started, you can keep track of the parade through this link to all posts concerning the project, including news and partnerships-in-blog.