The one where two young women of colour rescue poetry from itself

Say what you want about Rupi Kaur, and I tend to say things, her facile musings and doodles have paved the way for inaugural-poet-and-subsequent-superstar Amanda Gorman who has basically turned this mid-point in the pandemic into a giant poetry party. I know a lot of us grit our teeth seeing dumptrucks of money being driven up to the doors of instagram models who pen statements that don’t even reach the level of pseudo-profundity and lay them down in craftless lines accompanied by twee sketches of suns and flowers, but … but … Everyone is reading it. And that’s a good thing. Unlike Kaur, Gorman, I feel, will grow in ways we can’t even expect, and will hopefully be drawing young people to the art for many years to come. Even USA Today is covering poetry’s sudden surge. Seriously. That’s like when your quietly-racist, dumb NFL-superfan uncle calls you to tell you he saw the superbowl poem and asks why you can’t write something understandable like that. You’re both offended and so happy that anything poetic entered his sphere at all. Brown girl power for the win.

On how books become award favourites

It’s the same story every time: a list comes out and someone, somewhere goes: WTF? You’re either on the awards list or you hate it. But in the end, this horse race culture often decides what the public reads. How does it work? I can tell you this: every time I’ve sat on a major jury (except one), everyone’s third choice is what wins. One time I judged the Writers Trust fiction Prize and everyone showed up and said, “Okay, so Toews is the winner… who is on the shortlist?”

I’ve heard rumors of how books become awards favorites, but although excellent books are nominated each year, I’m alway [sic] surprised at what is forgotten. Book publicists at major publishers are largely responsible for how much attention their books get. They often have long lists of books for which they’re responsible. Out of the thousands of books published each year, 10-20 of them might end up becoming the titles we hear about, and the ones that get nominated for major awards. This determines which books sell best, which, in turn, affects how bookstores and other recommend them, and vice versa. Various awards’ nominees and winners often come across as a mix between a mandate and an admonition to readers. Was the book we loved unimpressive, or was it just not pushed hard enough by an overworked publicist?

Friday funtimes

Well, we’re inching closer to having survived another winter. Next week there’ll be about 1 million posts about romance and love books because boy do we love an invented holiday to prop up the retail sector in a down month. So enjoy your blissfully over-packaged chocolate free news now while you can, because next week it’s EXPLODE WITH CORPORATE LOVE!

Poetry is in trouble

Not the genre (or maybe it is, given Instagram, etc., but that’s for another article), the venerable magazine. I love Poetry Magazine and have been an off and on subscriber (depending on finances) for many years. I’m not sure how they manage to step in these things, but there always seems to be something controversial afoot. Usually, I think that is indicative of them doing the good work of art, which is far too safe and boring these days. But this time… eesh. Turns out that as part of an issue dedicated to incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated poets, they published the work of a pedophile. We lock the bodies of people like that up so they can’t harm society with their presence. Should we lock their minds up as well? It’s a tough call. There are plenty of non-incarcerated poets who have done terrible things, and only recently are we starting to see them face repercussions for this sort of behaviour (though truth be told, only a tiny tiny fraction of them seem to be getting the wrath that should be spread out a bit more), so this feels like an oddly timed choice. That said, are we looking at the poem or the poet? As a longtime despiser of French criticism, I tend to believe the author is very much alive. Especially in the age of the internet. Regardless, it’s not a public institution, but a private business, and they have the right to publish what they want. That said, the public also has the right to buy, subscribe to, and denounce what they want. So it’s back down to your wallet. In capitalism, each dollar spent is a vote cast. Some of Poetry’s statement is below, and while it makes logical sense, it (ironically?) doesn’t really capture the human element of things. I don’t know what I’d do if I were working there. Sometimes we make mistakes. But how do we fix them?

When a reader asked why the issue included Nesset, Poetry magazine said that its guest editors “didn’t have knowledge of contributors’ backgrounds”, because “the editorial principle for this issue was to widen access to publication for writers inside prison and to expand access to poetry, bearing in mind biases against and barriers for incarcerated people”.

“We recognise the life-shattering impact of violence and denounce harm,” the magazine said in a statement on Twitter. “People in prison have been sentenced and are serving/have served those sentences; it is not our role to further judge or punish them as a result of their criminal convictions. As editors, our role is to read poems and facilitate conversations around contemporary poetry.

“We maintain that these poems are an expression of a human experience and that poetry is a force to advance human engagement and critical self-reflection. We hope the poetry in this issue facilitates deep and empathic reading and extends our discourse.”

Thursday news dump

Bezos decides to remove “face of evil” from top of neck, shoulders, and body of evil

Hey! In other driving-culture-into-the-dirt leadership news: Jeff Bezos, the man who profited most off the millions of deaths and misinformation of the pandemic, is stepping down as CEO. Don’t expect that shiny noggin to go away though. Those nimble little fingers, so perfect for wringing the necks of rodents and small people, will be working the marionette strings until the only inevitability that catches up to the poor and billionaires alike finally makes itself known to him. Come on, Brad Pitt. Some takes:

New Indigo couture line to phase out “literature” section?

You couldn’t make this up: a fashion retailer will be Indigo’s new presidential honcho. I mean, I suppose it’s the next best thing if they couldn’t get the lead architect of to step in. Bring on the polyester scarves and discount dress racks. Your move Scholastic. (Note, it is my firm opinion that if a bookstore catches fire, it should burn, not melt.)

Indigo Books and Music has hired British fashion retail baron Peter Ruis to lead the company as president, reporting to CEO Heather Reisman. Ruis will be relocating from London to Toronto with his family.

Ruis was CEO of the U.K.’s women’s fashion retailer Jigsaw Group before becoming managing director of Anthropologie URBN Group in 2018. He also previously worked for John Lewis, Levi Straus & Co., and Ted Baker.

Found in translation

Damion Searles thinks people just need to relax about whether or not reading a book in translation means you’re “missing out” on original language bits lost in the process. I tend to agree. Except with Russians. I feel like they sneak so much extra stuff in there, I am envious of those who can read in the original. That said, nothing will stop me from reading the translations.

Rumaan Alam: You translated a novel called Sundays in August by one of my absolute favorite living writers, the French Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. I personally don’t have any language other than English, and I feel like there are these purists who will say, “No, you haven’t really read Modiano because you’ve only experienced him in translation.” His body of work is so big that it has multiple translators, because English publishers have been trying to catch up after Modiano won the Nobel Prize. I’ve read your translation of this book, and I’ve read a handful of his other translators in his other books. Am I getting Modiano, or am I getting a simulacrum of Modiano?

Damion Searls: I think that’s an overdefensive reaction to some sort of insecurity that’s been instilled in you by this kind of technical vision of, is it 99.7 percent accurate or is it 99.8 percent accurate? Why wouldn’t you be getting Modiano? There is a different layer when you read someone who wrote in English. They’ve been edited, and somebody put a certain cover on it, and they’ve been reviewed in a certain way, and they exist in the culture in a certain way. You’re either reading it in a course where the professor’s framing it a certain way, or you’re not. The bookstores decided to stock it and promote it in a certain way, so you’re not in some pure, ideal mind-meld with the author, either. The best analogy would be performing music. If you listen to Glenn Gould, are you listening to Bach or not?