I just got the latest Whitmore Press newsletter, announcing Jill Jones and Tracy Ryan as the joint winners of this year’s Manuscript Prize and I gotta say I’m a little bemused.
Let me say straight off the bat that I have a lot of respect for Jones and Ryan’s poetry, and that it’s certainly a coup for Whitmore Press to add two such prestigious names to their roster, and that it’ll be great to see new books by both of these authors.
I may have taken my eye off the ball, but I would have thought two such high profile Australian poets were (for lack of a better term) above submitting to this kind of prize. Not to disparage the great work and fine contribution WP makes to ozpo, or to say that Jones and Ryan should have stayed out of it, but this prize always seemed a little more for the neophytes than the acknowledged and tenured upper echelons that I presume jones and Ryan occupy. I would have thought the Josephine Ulrich or Peter Porter prizes were more their speed.
Is this an indication of the eternally parlous state of Australian Poetry publishing, that two shining lights are so hard-pressed to get a book out that something like the WP Ms Prize seems like a better use of their time than approaching, say, UQP or Giramondo, even?
If so, what does that mean for the rest of the poets out there? It was always a fair assumption that when you took the field for the aforementioned Ulrich or Porter, or dared imagine vying for even a showing in a Best Australian or PM/Premier shortlist, you’d be up against some serious MFs, but if even the heavy hitters are going out for such relatively modest (again, no disrespect) laurels, what hope is there for the midlisters? Or even, dare I ask, the bantamweights?
I guess it’s good to know who you’re up against, but jeez.
Anyway, congratulations to Jill and Tracy and kudos to Whitmore Press. And to the rest of you: get your game on or go home.