I was just reading Saturday’s Age over Anna’s shoulder and I happened to catch the shortlist for the poetry section of the Book of the Year awards, which was most underwhelming. A poetry prize contended for by Robert Adamson, John Kinsella, Pam Brown and Peter Porter? Oh dear.
It’s great that Kate Middleton’s debut collection is in the running, but I find it hard to believe that she’s the only non-heavyweight whose work is worthy of shortlisting. Even the long-list is full of well-established multivolume authors: Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Ouyang Yu, Adam Aitken, Alex Skovron… and yes, one other debut collection, by Sarah Holland-Batt, but that’s still pretty slim pickings in terms of new voices.
Not to disparage any of the nominated poets’ work, and not to get all reverse-ageist or anything, despite the fightin’ words in this post’s title, but this is a pretty unadventurous list, which is disappointing given the talented (relative) youngsters that you can easily find if you scratch the surface of contemporary ozpo.
My first thought was that maybe you just get this kind of shortlist when the nomination process is stacked in favour of established players, but from what I can discern, the process of nominating for the prize is as simple as sending copies of the book to the Age.
The only entry conditions are that it has to be a single-author work, that the author has to still be alive, and that the book “must be of a literary merit” – take that last one as you will. There are no restrictions on the size of the book, and self-published works are eligible for nomination by their authors, though non-self-published work must be submitted by the publisher and not the author.
So given that it’s such an open and unrestricted nomination process, and given that there are plenty of poetry publishers out there releasing talented work by first-time and lesser-known poets, why aren’t those poets showing up in this shortlist? Maybe those publishers don’t know how easy it is to nominate, or maybe they just don’t think they’re in with a chance so they don’t bother. Or maybe they do know and they do bother, and they miss out for other reasons – I dunno.
This Thursday is payday and I think I’m going to make a small effort in an attempt to rectify this imbalance of kudos by buying some books by Australian poets who DIDN’T make the shortlist.
Maybe we could make this an annual event – “National Buy-A-Non-Shortlisted-Poet Day” has a certain ring to it, wouldn’t you say?