crappin' on about the inconsequential

Old buggers nominated for poetry prize (again)

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.

One of these things is not like the others..
(L-R: Kinsella, Middleton, Adamson, Brown, Porter)

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?

19 thoughts on “Old buggers nominated for poetry prize (again)”

  1. i just found an old cheque in my diary, payment for a review i wrote a while back. it’ll probably clear by thursday, & the idea of investing this literary money in non-shortlisted poetry is a grand one.

    (oh & curnow better send me a signed copy of that book, or i shall embark on a vicious online campaign of slander & ruin his good reputation… i suppose i could pay him for it too…)

  2. Hey Adam, I’d be interested to see which books were submitted for consideration. Presumably all the ‘major’ poetry publishers would send in their books, but like you say, maybe some publishers / self-published poets don’t know how easy it is to enter. I’m guessing there were plenty of quality books published this year which weren’t even in contention.

    What would your 2009 shortlist look like?

    1. Ah now that’s the trick, Stu. My own list? I hardly feel qualified to put one forward – I’m only just getting my bearings in the poetry world after some time out of the loop. This post originally had a list of poetry books in it, but I took it out because it didn’t help to make my point. Two of the books I’m considering buying as part of NBANSPD are Sean Whelan’s Tattooing the Surface of the Moon and Bel Shenck’s Ambulances & Dreamers. I’d be keen to see other people’s NBANSPD book-purchase suggestions.

  3. Hey Adam,

    god we all love this speculation, I know – but Pam Brown is terrific, and deserves to win. I’d hardly call Aitken or Ouyang establishment, either. You and I both know the chances of younger or less established poets getting this kind of prize are slim – so I think it’s an honour and great for Sarah and Kate to be nominated. Beyond that, it’s a complete lottery and not worth getting wound up about. But I am wound – tight as the rubber bands inside a golf ball. Oh and there is a separate prize for debut collections anyway, forgot what it was called – I entered just like everyone else, and have probably ended up wasting twenty copies of my book (that i had to pay for myself) being considered for these damned things. Okay I go now.

    1. No disrespect to those nominated, Davey. I like all of their work and wish them all well. It was just a dull list to me. No real surprises, bar Kate, even in the long list. I know that this award isn’t really the place for new young voices, but still I felt like poking a stick at it a bit. I’m not saying Oyuang and Aitken are establishment, just that they’re familiar names, like most of the other names on this list.

  4. Are there really rubber bands inside golf balls?

    I hope Pam Brown wins too, but I’d probably put my money on Adamson. Having said that, he won a couple of years ago, so maybe it’ll be Porter’s turn?

  5. Nomination is one thing, but I’d be interested to know who shortlists, and how the shortlisters are selected.

    As for the golf balls – yes! Cutting one open and letting it ping itself about unravelling was one of childhood’s great pleasures.

  6. Peter Porter born 1929
    Robert Adamson born 1943
    Pam Brown born 1948
    John Kinsella born 1963
    Kate Middleton aged 29, so born either 1979 or 1980, depending on how soon she turns 30!…

    What is the (ageist) criterion for lumping all these people together by age? Only Pam Brown and Robert Adamson are even roughly close to each other in age… You’ve got at least three different generations there.

    How do you know the selection is “unadventurous”, based merely on assumptions about age? Is there a proven correlation between “newness” in aesthetics, and age-group?

    1. Hi Tracy.

      You’re right – there’s a big range of ages there. I guess I was mainly lumping them together as top-tier names familiar to anyone with a cursory knowledge of ozpo. Hence my comment about unadventurousness, which wasn’t based on the age of nominees, more that the list presents no surprises, no curveballs, nothing as-yet-unheard-of, apart from (possibly) Kate. As I mentioned to David in these comments it’s likely that this award isn’t the place to discover or celebrate newer voices – this was more a “wouldn’t it be nice if…” kind of observation.

  7. Hey Adam

    woo hoo! I’m a 3 pointer!

    now tell Derek (who still owes me $20 bucks for that late night six pack and chicko roll in Albury) to send that old cheque in his diary my way!

    hope the Words In Winter GDS launch went well.

  8. Hey Adam, in your comment above you write ‘I know that this award isn’t really the place for new young voices’ – and I say, why not? This is the book of the year award, not the poet of the year award, so surely every book out there should be judged alone on its merit and the age or emergence of the poet should have nary to do with it?

  9. Hi Lisa.

    What I meant by that was that historically speaking this award isn’t a place where new young voices are found, and that pointing out the lack of them isn’t a particularly original observation.

  10. Hi Adam

    from the “well established” Adam Aitken ;=). It’s good for you to stimulate discussion about prizes and generational issues. I think you are pointing out that the more books poets have under their belts, the larger a chance they have of recognition. But it’s a catch 22 for younger less published poets. Just for the record I have written all four of my books as if they were my first. I never expected any of them to make me well established, and the next one will I hope be as fresh and exciting as Kate M’s, Sarah’s, LK Holt’s, and many other younger poets. The issue here is the newer poets can and should be accessible so that us oldies keep trying to be new. Maybe this is not always the case and maybe you perceive that some oldies appear to be stuck in a mould and have excluded younger poets from the privileged spaces.

    I’d try to stop worrying about it and get on editing and creating review pages, internet sites, and good critical commentary by and for younger poets (as Tranter, Adamson and Ken Bolton have all done).

    Adam Aitken

    1. Thanks for your input, Adam. I appreciate you taking time to leave a comment.

      You’re right about the need to create spaces for younger poets – that’s what I’ve been trying to do over the years as a journal editor, with the reviews I write, and also the poetry and self-publishing workshops that I teach.

      I like what you said about writing every book as though it’s your first. I think that’s really good advice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s