Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jacob Scheier Interview

In an interview in existere, Jacob Scheier has this to say about the aftereffects of winning the GG for the best book of poetry in Canada last year:

"I'll be honest it's taken a toll on my writing the past few months."

I haven't read More To Keep Us Warm, so can't comment on the poems. That's not the point, here, anyway. Nor does it matter, in this context, that the win was controversial. Though appreciative (and why wouldn't he be?) of the "prestige" (though being lumped in with Pass, Hilles, and many others is problematic, to say the least), not to mention the sponduliks, the above quote results from the spiritual hangover of the win. But reading it engenders either spontaneous laughter or expletives, depending on one's prevailing mood. There're few things as nauseating as listening to writers kvetch about the difficulties of their compositional progress, or lack thereof. How insulting it is to writers with real problems to overcome. I wonder if a contrast can be any more severe than between a comfortable grant-and-award bestowed Western poet and, say, Georg Trakl's procedure with image and syntax when being ordered, as a pharmacologist, to tend to hundreds of gored and dying soldiers during an attack in WWI. Or Cesar Vallejo trying to concentrate with a perpetual empty stomach. Or even Wallace Stevens switching from dry, bureaucratic numbers and issues to flights of imaginative brilliance by night. It didn't seem to affect their poetry to any great detriment.

One reason this "lack of progress" is a concern, of course, is the well-known "publish or perish" reality amongst academic practitioners. I don't know Scheier's broader job description, nor do I particularly care. But that competitive book-every-year-or-two reality seems to have put pressure on even poets not affiliated with the connected publishing/marketing machine in Canada and the U.S., just to keep up in an attempt to be noticed. The irony, of course, is that the more books that are published, the less likely it is they'll be noticed, simply from the groaning weight of former trees compressed into burgeoning libraries of poetastry which can never be picked up since the day, for any reader, as ever, can't go beyond 24 circular swipes.

Scheier, thanks in no small part to the GG crowning, is fortunate. He's permanently vaulted the slush pile no matter how good, indifferent, or bad is his currect or future poetry. Most others don't have that luxury. And if this collective "writers' block" (pernicious, bogus, desultory complaint) continues past three months to three or more years, we'll all -- writer and reader -- be the better for it.

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