“Hey, are you still doing that book blog?” is a question that I’ve been getting more frequently than I might’ve guessed.
The answer is “yes” and “no”.
Yes, I’m still planning to read and write about 150 Canadian books this year. No, I haven’t been doing any reading or writing for the past couple of weeks because life has intervened into the process. Basically, other deadlines have arisen and forced me to shift my attention. I’m hoping to be back, more regular than ever, in about three weeks. I'll have to work overtime to catch back up...
Nonetheless, I wanted to stop by tonight and write something about the Griffin Prize nominees.
The nominees for Canada’s most prestigious poetry prize were announced last week. It didn’t seem to get a lot of notice – I only realized it because some of my poets friends congratulated their friends on social media. I figured that, having moreorless skipped Canada Reads (though hooray for Fifteen Dogs!) I might find time this week to do a quick dip into the Griffin Prize, reading the three shortlisted Canadian books (there is also an international category, which I’m ignoring) as a way to say something about contemporary Canadian poetry.
No such luck.
The first thing that I did was fire up the iPad app that is connected to the Calgary Public Library service. I typed in:
Jordan Abel Injun. No results.
Violet Energy Ingots. No results.
Silvija Sandra Ridley. No results.
Well, I thought, that was a short commentary.
Nonetheless, book blogs shouldn’t be sunk with a single search. I fired up a new browser window and searched the library again, this time for physical copies. Good news: the city of Calgary library system owns one copy of Jordan Abel’s Injun. Also good news, I could be the first person on the waiting list for it.
The bad news was that they don’t own copies – electronic or physical – of the books by Sandra Ridley and Hoa Nguyen.
Undeterred, I recognized that I work at a university that is widely regarded for its creative writing program and whose English department emphasizes Canadian literature. Surely, I realized, we will have copies of these books. Well, sort of. We own a copy of Silvija, but for reasons that are not clear to me it is non-circulating – a part of our Special Collections. That means I can read it if I go to campus and sit in the library, which seems, erm, improbable.
As for Violet Energy Ingots, well…
Maybe that tell you everything that you need to know about the state of Canadian poetry in 2017.
As for the one book that I could get, well it came off the waiting list and I picked it up this afternoon. Injun is a work derived from a source text of public domains western novels that Abel has reformatted. It is an archive of terms, a word collage, and a poem that (for reasons that weren’t immediately apparent to me) rotates so that all of the letters are printed upside down.
I’m never quite certain that a book like this wants the reader to read all of it. I did (it’s really slim: half an hour, maybe). Even the section that is just a series of sentence fragments arranged so that a common word (“reserve” or “warpath”) forms a column. I noted that in one of them the word “prospectorp” appears, possibly instead of “prospetors” or “prospector’s” or possibly it’s a typo in the actual public domain book that Abel appropriated. Don’t know. Made me wonder.
If a library around here picks up either of the other two nominees, I’ll look forward to reading them.
One thing I learned about Canada from this book: Poetry is essentially non-circulating.