Monday 18 June 2007

I'm off to the Berlin Poetry Festival

Well, I'm off to Berlin for the poetry festival. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I'll be filing a full report upon my return.

Check out the program of events here.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Children's Poet Laureate... Why don't we have one?

Michael Rosen, shown here, has just been appointed the Children's Laureate for the U.K., taking over from Jacqueline Wilson. The BBC reports:

The author and poet is best known for books like We're Going On A Bear Hunt and Don't Put Mustard In The Custard.
He will hold the position of Children's Laureate for two years and wins a £10,000 bursary.
Rosen was chosen by peers in the world of children's literature, and takes over from Jacqueline Wilson.
The 61-year-old said: "I see my job as Children's Laureate being an ambassador for fun with books.
"I hope that I'll be able to boost all children's reading for pleasure but also to give a special lift to the wonderful diverse world of poetry for children," he added.
(Full story here.)

Last year the Poetry Foundation appointed Jack Prelutsky to a similar position in the U.S. Here is a press release from their website:

The Poetry Foundation inaugurated Jack Prelutsky as the nation’s first “Children’s Poet Laureate” on September 27 at the Pegasus Awards ceremony in Chicago. The award is given to a living poet for a career devoted to the writing of some of the best poetry for the young. The award is also intended to raise awareness among poetry readers and the public that children are naturally receptive to poetry when written especially for them, and that this often is the beginning of a lifelong love of poetry.
(Read the full release here.)

Now, I know Canada often lags behind the trend in these matters. After all, the U.S. only got a children's laureate last year. And let's not forget, it took us an awful long time just to get around to appointing a regular poet laureate, mere centuries behind the pioneers in the field. But I believe a children's poet laureate would be an asset for Canada. We could use such an advocate in this country for children's education and literacy. An ambassador for both the arts and for children, who can address the public, advise the government, and entertain and educate our young people. For a country where a large percentage of the population was raised on Alligator Pie and Garbage Delight I know this goes without saying, but I would like to nominate Dennis Lee for the honour. I don't think many, if any, would disagree. He has been the unofficial children's laureate for long enough. I think it's time we, as a nation, made it official.

So what do we do now? Well we lobby. We can write to our MPs. I will be doing this today. And it couldn't hurt to mention this idea to the current Parliamentary Poet Laureate John Steffler. Perhaps he can mention it to the Parliamentary Librarian, who in turn could mention it to....

UPDATE: I have written to my MP (Peggy Nash) and to the PPL (John Steffler) about this. Let's see if anything happens.

Saturday 9 June 2007

RIP Michael Hamburger

Obituary from The Telegraph.

As a poet, Hamburger certainly had no cause to feel inadequate, though he was a surprising omission from many anthologies of mid-20th-century verse.

It was surprising because his work had nothing in it to offend the sensibilities of the custodians of received wisdom and, though markedly intellectual at points, had no obscurantism in its language. On the whole, his work was characterised by an unsentimental integrity and he was particularly evocative in his reflections on nature.

But if he had been neglected as a poet, it was his distinction as a critic, a teacher and, above all, as a translator, rather than any hostility toward his verse, which was the cause.

Hamburger translated fluently and widely from both French and German writers, though his greatest achievement was generally considered to be his translations of Hölderlin, which brought the poet to a wider audience.

Read the rest here.

Michael Hamburger in The Poetry Archive.

Poet Sharon Harris reports on the Griffin Gala

Here's a sample of Sharon's report:

Host Scott Griffin began the proceedings with a speech about the importance of poetry, and presented The Lifetime Recognition Award to legendary poet Tomas Tranströmer. The Swedish poet, who was in attendance with his wife, Monica, has been translated into English more than any poet in the world, and is often called one of our greatest living poets. Tranströmer’s work was read in Swedish by Monica Tranströmer, and in translation by Griffin Trustee Robin Robertson. Trustee Robert Hass paid tribute with a moving speech about the poet’s career; glasses were raised. Later in the evening, Canadian winner Don McKay cited Tomas as “the most important poet” in his life.

American poet Matthew Rohrer, a founding editor of Fence Books and a past Griffin nominee, gave a keynote speech which was thoughtful and humourous. He told a great anecdote about a fellow U.S. poet who was stopped at the Canadian border. Reason: he gave his occupation as “Poet.”

For his job description, the American poet was immediately whisked to a windowless room and asked to spell “Rimbaud.” He responded successfully, and next the guard commented, “it’s too bad Rimbaud died so young.” The poet correctly countered that Rimbaud stopped writing at an early age, but enjoyed a long life. His passport was officially stamped “Poet” and its owner was welcomed to Canada!

For the whole story, click here.

For more information on what Sharon Harris is up to these days, visit her website.

Thursday 7 June 2007

And the winners are....

Don McKay and Charles Wright take the cake.
Press release. Globe and Mail.

It was a great party. The steak was fabulous. I had a nice chat with Rodney Jones, one of my favourite American poets, about Lucia Perillo, another of my favourite American poets. No complaints.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Tomas Tranströmer surprise guest at Griffin readings last night

I am huge admirer of the poet Rodney Jones, and last night I had the very good fortune to see him give a reading as part of the Griffin Prize readings. He was tremendous, and the crowd seemed to love him. Paul Farley, a young British poet, also knocked my socks off. I will be reading him for years to come. Together Jones and Farley would have made an utterly memorable reading (which, it should be noted, is a very rare thing), but the stage was stocked overfull with some the greatest literary talent the poetry world has to offer.

Charles Simic, one of the judges of this year's Griffin Prize and a winner in 2005, was there. I have been reading his work with delight since I was twenty. Don McKay, one of my Canadian heroes, gave an excellent reading. This is his third time being nominated in the seven year history of the Prize. Charles Wright was beyond charming. John Burnside, a large man with a large voice, was a presence at once imposing and disarming. Watching him unfold several scraps of crumpled notes in order to introduce Ken Babstock was nothing short of cute.

The usually reclusive Frederick Seidel remained reclusive, it seemed, and a young actress (who's name I didn't recognize or retain) was hired to read poems from his book Ooga Booga. Though it was no fault of hers, I think it was a bad choice. As actors are want to do when reading poetry, she over did it. And Seidel's poems require subtlety. She had warned the audience that she was going to try to "inhabit" Seidel's words. And she did so, but I fear she may have had to first evict the consciousness that wrote them. She rendered Seidel's black, deadpan humour with too much of a smile, in my opinion. It seemed wrong. It felt uncomfortably sunny. Still, her effort was sincere, and I applaud her for that, and the poems are excellent regardless.

You'd think a more impressive line-up would be difficult to assemble. But add to all this Karen Solie, another judge and herself a past Griffin nominee not to mention one of the finest Canadian poets of her generation, and nominee Priscila Uppal. What could you possibly want to add to such an already wonderful mixed bag of talents?

Enter Scott Griffin, the illustrious founder of the feast. The time had come to award a senior poet with the Griffin Lifetime Achievement Award. This award, begun last year when Robin Blaser received the inaugural honour, is an initiative of the trustees of the Griffin Prize and completely separate from the judges and the nominees. Scott introduced Robert Hass to present the award. When Hass got behind the microphone, he said, "Tomas Tranströmer. . . " and for several moments the rest of his words were the aural equivalent of a blur. An audible gasp rose the audience. Excited whispers flew. In the wings, I could see the shape of a man sitting a wheelchair. He was actually there.

Tranströmer (pictured) was brought on stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation that last several minutes. He is a true legend, someone who's name will live on through the ages when all our athletes and politicians are long forgotten. He lays more claim to literary posterity than perhaps any writer of poetry alive today. After he was presented with his prize, his wife Monica read a poem of his, "Couples," in Swedish. Such beauty, it made me want to learn the language on the spot. Griffin trustee Robin Robertson followed with an English version of the same. I was moved, to say the least, and still somewhat stunned to be in the same room with a man who's talent I consider to be larger than life.

In the lobby after the reading, when the crowd was milling aimlessly, I noticed Tranströmer sitting near me, and he was not yet surrounded by a throng of admirers. I offered my hand and spoke to him. What I said is not important. It was nothing special or original. His response was a simple smile, genuine, pleased, reassuring. I will never forget it.