Archive for the ‘Awards’ category

Griffin Math, 2011 Update

June 2, 2011

I have hangover. I have gritty club-faced hangover. I have dirty, twitchy, turn-the-brightness-down-low-on-the-laptop hangover. I have ShowMeNoFood with a touch of WhereAreMyPants. I have hangover.

That being said, I wanted to update this old Griffin Math post to reflect the winners (Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Dionne! Fucking! Brand!) and shortlistees of the 2011 version of the award. I also want to remind you, dear internet, that on the day the judges were named, I told you that Dionne was going to win this year’s Canadian prize for Ossuaries. I do this not to pat my ego or anything (what’s the value of getting such a thing right?) but to suggest, calmly and supportively, that if a mildly-engaged observer such as myself can correctly guess the winner ten months in advance, the Griffins may have a slight predictability concern. That’s all. Canonization can be boring work I guess, even when the poet being canonized is among your very favourites.

So anyway, here are the breakdowns I brought out last year, broken down anew with the fresh information from the 2011 lists.

Canadian Griffin Awards by Gender
Women: 7 wins off 18 shortlistings
Men: 4 wins off 14 shortlistings
Mixed: 0 wins off 1 shortlisting

The Canadian Griffin Award continues to be (thusfar, anyway) that rare thing, a female-leaning major literary award. The women almost have it a 2-1 ratio at this point, and have returned to their winning streak after a brief three-year period owned by the men, wherein the prize went McKay 07, Blaser 08, and Moritz 09.

International Griffin Awards by Gender
Men: 6 wins off 29 shortlistings
Women: 4 wins off 14 shortlistings
Mixed: 1 win off 1 shortlisting

The international award has skewed male. Or, alternatively put, the international award has skewed in same manner as most international poetry awards. Still, three consecutive women have won it (CD Wright, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, and now Gjertrud Schnackenberg) so perhaps we are in the midst of an evening-out.

Canada Griffin Award Shortlistings by Publisher:
McClelland & Stewart (8)
House of Anansi (7)
Coach House (6)
Brick Books (3)
The Porcupine’s Quill (2)
Vintage Canada (1)
Douglas & McIntyre (1)
Frontenac House (1)
Polestar Books (1)
Exile Editions (1)
Insomniac Press (1)

Canada Griffin Award Wins by Publisher:
McClelland & Stewart (4)
House of Anansi (2)
Coach House (2)
Vintage Canada (1)
Brick Books (1)
University of California Press (1)

The above tables are for the “Anansi always wins, because they’re owned by Scott Griffin” goldfish. Anansi does not always win, though they did the two previous years. Lots of great presses have gone untouched by Griffin benevolence, but if I had to name just two: Hello Vehicule? Hello Nightwood?

International Griffin Awards by Nationality:
USA: 8 wins, from 27 shortlistings
UK: 1 wins, from 11 shortlistings
Ireland: 1 wins, from 2 shortlistings
Australia: 0 wins, from 2 shortlistings
Barbados: 1 win, from 1 shortlisting
Libya: 0 wins, from 1 shortlisting

The above table counts the translator’s, and not the original poet’s, nationality. There’d be a lot more diversity there, otherwise (including an addition this year of rows marked “Belgium” and “Syria”). Still, if we were to take Khaled Mattawa’s adopted homeland as his nation, instead of his birthplace of Libya, we’d see in this year’s shortlist a repetition of the Grffin’s default international shortlist: 3 Americans, 1 European, with the American winning the prize. Those UK/Ireland numbers will look out of whack to some, and to those I’ll issue the reminder that Northern Ireland (home to Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon) is still a part of the former. This is the Griffin’s most significant cultural bias. They like Americans a great deal, even when those Americans are acting as translators and not originators.

Canadian Griffin Awards by Region of Birth:
Ontario: 4 wins, from 12 shortlistings
United States: 3 wins, from 4 shortlistings
Manitoba: 1 win, from 2 shortlistings
Atlantic Canada: 1 win, from 2 shortlistings
Saskatchewan: 1 win, from 2 shortlistings
Trinidad: 1 win, from 2 shortlisting
Alberta: 0 wins, from 4 shortlistings
Quebec: 0 wins, from 3 shortlistings
UK: 0 wins, from 2 shortlistings
BC: 0 wins, from 1 shortlisting

I remember last year when I was making these lists wanted to do something on geography to deal with the perceived Toronto-centricism of the domestic award. It’s tough to do, though, as Canadian poets have a frustrating tendency to not stay still, and most of them file through Toronto at some point in their lives. So the above is very imperfect (for example, it doesn’t list Brand as a Toronto poet, as she was born in Trinidad, but does list Mr. Newfoundland Ruralism, John Steffler, as one). So, don’t take the above too seriously. Still: only three shortlisted authors from Quebec so far, including Suzanne Buffam? Only the one (George Bowering) from BC?

I know this is an imperfect scicence, but here goes: I’d suggest that, of the eleven previous Griffin winners in Canada, six of them could be rationally described as “Toronto poets” at the time of their winning: Bok 02, Avison 03, Borson 05, Moritz 09, Solie 10, Brand 11. So, six out of eleven, and at least two of those (Borson, Solie) were writing poems with a distinct geographic lilt quite distant from Toronto. Whether or not you think 6/11 is evidence of an eccentricity or bias is likely wrapped up in your own eccentricities and biases towards Toronto (as cultural capital, or not) and the country (as federation, or not). I’ll leave you to them.

With that, I’m going out into the repressive, hateful, sunlight, to try and get my day started. I ate some yogurt. I feel okay.

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Reviews in, Reviews Out, Trillium, Sunburn, Thursday

May 30, 2011

Hi everyone.

To bring you up to date: I quit my job. I am going to spend June doing a lot of reading, some writing, and a great deal of wandering around the city. I’ve done so much of this third thing already (including a 25km quest from Parkdale to Folk’s spiritual homeland of Malton, Mississauga) that I’ve already developed a case of the official sunburn of my people. I’m going to write an essay about reading books while walking down a public sidewalk. I feel I’m good at this, and it’s a skill that’s underutilized and seen as eccentric or antisocial. It’s not.

My review of the Fall 2010 chapbooks from Cactus Press is in the newest reload from Alex Boyd and company at Northern Poetry Review. I liked them all. Go read them. Also, the review of Folk by Adebe D.A. from the May issue of Quill and Quire is now online and here is the link I promised earlier.

Trillium shortlist came out today, and it was a good morning here at headquarters with both roommates scoring nominations. Well deserved, gentlemen. That poetry list is superb, really. Books that I was worried were coming in under the radar, brought back to the radar’s blip (Couture, Norman). Someone even got shortlisted despite insinuating that he doesn’t submit to awards. Magical. The Globe ran a halfway interesting think piece on awards culture last week. The takeaway thought, for me, is the idea George Bowering had about how prizes have taken the place of reviews in the ordering, canonizing, extracting work of new literature. Seems wildly inefficient, really (reviews are inexpensive, iconoclastic, various, while prizes tend to be expensive, idolatrous, monolithic and loud). Also, reviews used to have the democracy of numbers (a book would get 10 or so, says Bowering, and it matters less what one well-placed individual thinks of your work), while awards are few enough to put a great deal of weight on the lucky or unlucky arrangement of jurors around juries. Not that it’s the fault of any of the awards themselves. Anyone wanting to give money for books is on the side of angels. Full stop.

The solve for this imbalance seems simple enough: more reviews. Better critics. More space for reviews in the unconfined space of the internet. A democracy of shouting. And the rest balances itself out. I’m trying to pitch in here and there. I’ve taken to reacting to people who introduce themselves as “aspiring poets” with a friendly, “Oh really, have you reviewed anything I might know?” To that end, massive props go out to E. Martin Nolan for his review of the new Babstock in The Puritan. The first decent reading that thing has gotten, the first to approach it excited and unafraid. The first to get into, and then over, it’s “difficultness”. Everyone reading this sentence has more difficult books on their bookshelves. Stop panicking. Let’s not overreact, you know? Let’s be readers.

Speaking of all that, I’m stoked for the Griffin readings tomorrow. I’m going to spend the day getting liquored up so I can introduce myself to Don Patterson. After that circus packs up for another year, I’d recommend the launch of what I’ve been told is the final issue of Misunderstanding Magazine on Thursday. Both Cactus Press and Misunderstandings are Jim Johnstone creations. Cheers to Jim, say I. A pretty solid crew of readers await us at the Black Swan on Danforth at 7:30. Two Moritzs, Paul V, Sam Cheuk, the Toronto arrival of Vancouver’s Rob Taylor, and a bunch of others. Really great line-up. Now that I don’t have a job, I suppose I’ll get there early, even.

Griffin Shortlists

April 5, 2011

2011 Griffin Awards Canadian Shortlist
Ossuaries by Dionne Brand (M&S)
The Irrationalists by Suzanne Buffam (Anansi)
Lookout by John Steffler (M&S)

2011 Griffin Awards International Shortlist
Human Chain by Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
Selected Poems by Adonis, trans: Khaled Mattawa (Yale University Press)
The Book of the Snow by Francois Jacqmin, trans: Philip Mosley (Arc)
Heavenly Questions by Gjertrud Schnackenberg (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)

Spare Thoughts: Okay. I’m not going to make a huge deal over this. I’m just going to casually point out the fact that, five minutes after the judges for this year’s awards were announced, I officially told the world that Dionne Brand was going to win the Canadian Griffin for Ossuaries. Okay. That’s the last I’m going to mention it, except that I’m going to restate my earlier prediction: Dionne Brand is going to win the Griffin Award for Canadian Poetry. The Steffler inclusion is surprising, and he might pull an upset, but I’m going to stay with the horse I rode in on, I think. I’ve read exactly one of the four international finalists, which is about par for the course for me. There’s a lot of books out there, no time to read em all. Anybody in the national media who starts a paragraph with “Heaney, the best know of the International finalists…” owes an apology to Syria.

To get back to the Canadian list, though. I think what it reinforces is that the Griffin, for all the splash it’s made in its first eleven years, is still a distinctly canonical, conservative, prize. We make a big deal out of diversions from this. For example, the three debuts to make the list (The Certainty Dream, Crabwise to the Hounds, Short Haul Engine) are given a real pedestal in the recent history of our poetry, but this is because it’s an extremely rare feat. How many debuts have garnered GG noms in that time? There were two this year alone.

There’s a push in the adolescence of the Griffin towards assigning one trophy to each of the top, say, fifteen Canadian poets working. It’s an award of which we can say, “It’s their year”. It was Karen Solie’s year last year, really before the jury was even announced and (I’d argue) before her book was released. That’s not to take anything away from Pigeon, which I feel was a really strong book. It’s just how it is. The Griffins are an organism of a certain inertia. There are always multiple canonizing factors every year (the death of P.K. Page was one), but in general, last year was Karen Solie’s year. This year, I think, is Dionne Brand’s. Next year feels like it’ll probably be Ken Babstock. I think we’re going to see A LOT of first-time Griffin winners before we see any second-time Griffin winners.

The problem with that inertia is it often arrives for the wrong book. A lot of people would have preferred, say, that Don McKay won for Camber instead of Strike/Slip, or that there had been Griffins around when Margaret Avison was in her prime, instead of her winning for Wild Carrot. Even the inclusion (and, I feel, eventual coronation) of Ossuaries feels like an echo for the surprisingly un-nominated Inventory, of which it is a spiritual successor.

I say all this knowing that the jury changes every year, that it’s just three people in a room somewhere, and that assigning populis to a group of three is a mug’s game. But the narrative is there, isn’t it? Should we just ignore it?

Omissions: How does one do this? This is a blog with a general bias towards Canadian poetry, and a more intimate affiliation with “new” or “young” Canadian poets. And award that has no longlist, and a shortlist of just three, and has listed maybe 4 poets under the age of forty over its first ten years is generally going to rack up a lot of shouldas from me. I started making a list, and deleted it when said list got to 20 names. Everybody makes their own list. This is the one that counts. Kudos to The Company for getting two names on the final three. It was a good year for McClelland & Stewart Poetry.

Coming Soon: The return of that noted mad statistical scientist, Dr. Vox, and his annual update of “Griffin Awards Math“.

Lampert, Lowther Shortlists

April 4, 2011

The Finalists for the 2011 Gerald Lampert Award for best debut collection of poetry in English by a Canadian poet are (the parentheticals are author’s home, press):

The Crow’s Vow by Susan Briscoe (Montreal, Signal/Vehicule)
That Other Beauty by Karen Enns (Victoria, Brick)
Tiny, Frantic, Stronger by Jeff Latosik (Toronto, Insomniac)
[sic] by Nikki Reimer (Vancouver, Frontenac)
Here Is Where We Disembark by Clea Roberts (Whitehorse, Freehand)
The Nights Also by Anna Swanson (Vancouver, Tightrope)

Lampert jury: Lori Cayer, Jacob Scheier, Todd Swift

and the Finalists for the 2011 Pat Lowther Memorial Award for best book of poetry by a Canadian woman are:

Ossuaries by Dionne Brand (Toronto, M&S)
Walking to Mojacar by Di Brandt (Brandon, MA, Turnstone Press)
Living Under Plastic by Evelyn Lau (Vancouver, Oolichan Books)
Memory’s Daughter by Alice Major (Edmonton, University of Alberta Press)
Cathedral by Pamela Porter (British Columbia, Ronsdale Press)
La luna, Tango, siempre la luna (The Moon, Tango, Always the Moon) by Nela Rio (Fredericton, Broken Jaw Press)

Lowther jury: Magie Dominic, Eric Folsom, Yvonne Trainer

Spare thoughts re: the Lampert
There was really an embarrassment of riches this year for first collections. This isn’t a bad list. Some real diversity to be found. I’m glad to see [sic] get some attention, it being one of my very favourites of the past year, and obviously a big Wilson Park Road shout-out goes out to Vox Pop roommate and local superhero, Jeff Latosik. Anna Swanson is a friend, too, who wrote the kind of good, well-rounded debut that tends to sometimes get lost in these cattle calls. The only book here I haven’t read is Clea Roberts, but I’ll get on it. As for omissions? There’s lots. Leigh Nash would have been nice to see, also Melanie Siebert has to be a surprise after making the GG shortlist. Joshua Trotter? Or would his book be under 2011? I’d argue that the most obvious omission here, though, is Michael Lista’s. I think Bloom is that rare poetry collection that garners both critical excitement and (soon thereafter) the first inklings of an early critical backlash. Ninety-eight percent of first collections, including the great majority of Lampert winners, acquire neither in their time. Bloom will have to settle for being the most-discussed first book of the year, despite not making the LCP’s list of “best”.

Spare thoughts re: the Lowther:
I’ve read fewer of these, so I’ll tread lightly. Nice to see Dionne Brand out there for Ossuaries. I haven’t read the Brandt, but usually follow her work, so I’m surprised I’ve missed this one. That’s two book buying missives handed down to me by the League this afternoon…Omissions? I would have liked to see Sharon McCartney make it. Dani Couture’s “Sweet” was also wonderful. There’s always two to three deserving lists worth of options for this prize, I’m sure everyone has a pet book they’re disappointed to see miss out, but those two are probably mine, these two and the any number of other titles I can’t presently remember…Edit: I just woke up today and asked myself, “Wait, is Suzanne Buffam’s book on that list?” It is not. So there’s another surprise.

How about the League showing their diversity stripes on the publisher front? Twelve books, twelve different presses, and I count only 2 Toronto outfits in the whole batch (M&S and Tightrope). The League awards have sometime of a decentralist’s reputation compared to the Griffin and whatnot, and that’s displayed here.

Ah, awards season. That blessed time of every calendar year where we pause for a moment to express art as integers. Griffins drop tomorrow. You’ll know ’em when I know ’em.

Atlantic Poetry Prize Shortlist

March 23, 2011

We are entering shortlists season. Regional awards aplenty in March, then the league prizes on April 4th, and the big Griffin announcement on the 5th. At the risk of blowing myself out between now and then, I do want to give a shout out to the three books (all really good ones, I feel) that made the list for the Atlantic Poetry Prize. The APP being the regional poetry award of Vox’s homeland, and all.

I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being
by Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau)

It’s nice to get a reminder that Johanna is, as well as being a successful novelist and national sin-eater for all the joys and hypocrasies of the publishing industry, a poet first and foremost. I predict this shortlisting will result in less than one one-thousandth the foo-fer-ah that accompanied her other literary prize this year. This is a complicated book, and took me a couple passes before I managed to lock on to her rhythm. It looks casual and arrhythmic at first. It’s not.

Learning to Count
by Douglas Burnet Smith (Frontenac)

This is a book that should have some more readers. I said so here. You should get one. You can do that at the link above. The larger piece that sits in the middle of Learning to Count, Terrace and Dome, is a perfect object lesson in how to structure the unstructured long poem.

Lookout
by John Steffler (McClelland & Stewart)

Another solid book by one of Canada’s best mid-career poets. What’s not to like? I thin, on the whole, I’d take Ravenous or Grey Islands over this newest one, but there’s some staggering poems here. I can’t think of specific titles but there’s one about a river about two-thirds of the way through that is among his best.

Lots of other books didn’t make the list, but I’m happy with this one. Would have been nice to see maybe George Murray’s Glimpse, or Sharon McCartney’s For and Against, make it. But I can live with this. In the usually-enraging pantheon of poetry shortlists, I can live with this.

You can learn more about this year’s APP list, and the rest of the Atlantic Book Awards, over here.

“They seem to have barely tolerated modernity.”

November 17, 2010

Congratulations are in order for Mr. Richard Greene, whose collection Boxing the Compass won the 2010 English Language Poetry GG award earlier today. Greene takes his place in a long, complicated, oft-infuriating tradition of past winners.

Speaking of infuriating GG traditions, CNQ’s Alex Good has returned to his annual “shadow jury” antics again this year. I was asked to take part in the discussion of the five shortlisted titles with Alex and CNQ poetry reviewer, Brian Palmu. Brian and Alex are two smart people I’ve found myself vociferously disagreeing with in the past, so I jumped at the opportunity to draw swords and muck about in the five chosen books. The results of this melee have just been posted over here on Alex’s blog. In brief, I didn’t like the list all that much, though my favourite among them did turn out to be the eventual winner. Sadly, Greene’s Compass lost out on the even more illustrious Shadow GG this year to Michael Harris’s Circus, which won the misplaced affection of my two compatriots, thus cornering me into selling my vote. Jurydum is tuff. I hope you like this thing. It was one metric shit-tonne of work.

The Costs of Island Living

November 10, 2010

Congratulations to fellow ex-Nova Scotian Johanna Skibsrud for winning the Giller last night. The Sentimentalists was the only book on the shortlist I actually read, and one of maybe 5 Canadian novels I got through this year. I am not an active participant in that world, I’m afraid.

I’ve been as swept up in the publishing story around The Gillers as the literary one. Andrew Steeves, who heads up Gaspereau, has been both celebrated and chastised for refusing to let the book be mass-produced to meet the demand of the Christmas book buying public. One commenter on this G&M story said that his stubborness proves that many Canadian publishers aren’t actually interested in selling books. Booksellers, at least the independent ones, on the other hand, are applauding how close Steeves is sticking to his guns.

I’m of two minds here. On one side is the sensual experience of reading a handmade Gaspereau book, which is the very distillation of the lost art of craft bookmaking. I don’t even buy them unless I order one from the publisher or get them off the rack at a specific bookstore in Wolfville, NS that dedicates a whole shelf to Gaspereau products. It’s an intimate, local experience in a real, touch-and-feel, kind of way, the literary equivalent to a cheese connoisseur searching out the perfect brie. If it’s not made and consumed in France, it’s just Easy Cheese.

This particular communicative cycle between author, bookmaker, and reader is only a marginally economic experience. The fact that the books cost money is an ancillary fact of the transaction. If you want to buy a Gaspereau Press book, you don’t care what it costs. Likewise, if you’re going to make books the Gaspereau way, you don’t care about making money.

Enter the Giller.

The standard sales figures for a debut novel-turned-Giller winner is around 75,000 units domestically, using McIntyre and Lam as recent comparisons. At around 30 bucks a book, that’s 2.5 million dollars gross, and about $250,000 in royalties for an author. This is what the tactile costs, this is the “best/worst case scenario”. The small presses love to talk about “sacrificing for quality” in the context of self-congratulations, without a sense of the specific dimensions of that sacrifice. I can’t imagine Skibsrud saw such a sacrifice coming when she signed on with her poetry publisher to hand make an 800-copy run of a novel for the collector’s market.

The Giller publicity machine and Gaspereau are conflicting institutions, really, they have different motivations and place the economic life of a book in vastly different contexts. One sees bookselling as the necessary finality of book creation, one sees bookselling as the very rationale of that creation. They both believe in readers, of course, but define their role in reading quite differently. Penguin wants to present as many options as they can, as fast they can, and as cheaply as they can. Gaspereau wants to continue the book creator’s role well beyond the point of sale. You are aware of having bought a Gaspereau title even as you read the words on the page. The paper, the cover, the whole smell and sense of the thing is pregnant with the specific design and procedure of the press. This costs money, and is destined to leave Gaspereau at a major economic disadvantage, but again, the economic reality is an ancillary fact of the creation.

This being said, we fetishists and localists need to understand that there are ways in which our capitalist overlords have as beaten when it comes to generosity. Their model demands readers, while ours only allows them. That the economically measurable “quantity” metric of readership rules over the more ethereal “quality” metric is unfortunate, but economies of scale exist as mathematic equations in the service of choice. Choice and money. But let’s not let the ad hominem of profit motivation stand in for the entirety of the corporate book selling experience. If Random House really wanted to own the world, they surely wouldn’t ever have started with books. But they would make sure that enough copies of The Sentimentalists got out there to offer it as a choice to book buyers, to let libraries shelve it for their patrons.

There’s a posed fashionability to how the small press perceives itself. This, by extension, is also true of poetry. I understand I say all this from the p.o.v. of someone who publishes poetry with a multinational corporation, but all poetry is small press. Anyone who disagrees with that is welcome to come read my royalty statements, although they’ll need to buy me dinner first. We fret and complain about the impossibility of sustainability for small presses and their authors, from within the comfort of a collector’s market that doesn’t actually allow any sort of easy transition into sustainability. Self-publishers who use Lulu or something can go from 300 units to 30,000 units on the viral strength of a couple well-placed public mentions. But Gaspereau and their peers cannot. Johanna Skibsrud, over the next year, will pay the full bill for a sacrifice that the rest of us can only discuss as some vague lifestyle choice. Surely, she’ll experience other financial windfalls (the prize itself is work 50k, and there’s international royalties to consider), but she will also lose several thousand domestic readers, and a potential domestic payday of about $250,000. That’s what it costs, if anyone is wondering. That’s what it costs to live on an island.