Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Heartened (finally!)

Ron Silliman is judging the William Carlos Williams Award, awarded to the best book published by "a small press, non-profit, or university press" in the preceding calendar year (2007). He's been posting on it since Thursday, and I'm planning a considered post at some point soon.

Something Silliman had to say today, however, made me need to post. He'd expected to find many books that simply weren't competent among the 150 books he's been sent. In reality, he found 5. Setting aside those books that might prove amazing on re-reading but that he didn't "get" first time, and those that lack ambition (a good number), and those where he can't judge impartially (hurrah for making this decision), he writes that he has 70 left.

That there are at least seventy books worthy of such attention in any one year’s crop – not to mention those other volumes I held out on the basis of my relationship with their authors and those volumes that never got submitted – probably is the best assessment of the quality of writing that is taking place at this very moment. It’s really a stunning realization. At least it stunned me.
Ever since I got to the U.S. four and a bit years ago, I've had many people, usually poets, tell me how terrible contemporary poetry is. That simply isn't true: there's a wealth of great poetry out there, with huge ambition, and if we devoted our time to finding it and then telling other people about it, more people would be reading poetry. The tired reiteration that modern poetry isn't any good not only indicates a lack of engagement with what's out there (and yes, there is a distribution issue to address, but the blogs do such a great job talking up a range of books that it is no longer that hard to find something) but also does massive damage to the chances of occasional readers of poetry picking up a book.

I'm going to try to recommend at least one book of poetry a week on this blog, and to mention as many poets and poems as I can. In the meantime, one book Silliman must be considering and that I dearly loved is Paige Ackerson-Kiely's In No One's Land which I reviewed here. There's a lot of great books out there, many of which I didn't read, but among the many I read, this is a strong contender, methinks.

1 comment:

John Gallaher said...

In No One's Land was such a good book. I dearly loved it.