Thursday, 3 October 2013

Forward Prizes: and another thing

Full marks to Susannah Herbert for getting the Forward Prizes for poetry talked about and for trying out something new and, not least, for engaging personally in the to-and-fro: the Forward Foundation is clearly not a faceless bureaucracy. And congratulations to the winners. Obviously I was rooting for Dan O’Brien in the First Collection category, but he didn’t come out of that day badly: on the evening of the Forward do his partner gave birth to their first child, so the date is marked for the rest of his, his partner’s and his child’s lives.

Most of the talk about the Forward has been about the decision to have actors read the poems, and I’m finding it all a bit tedious. And sometimes annoying: to suggest that poets ‘can't survive these days without … constantly giving readings’ (quote from one of the threads) is simply wrong: there are a thousand other things poets can do to make an income. Besides which, most poetry publishers continue to publish poets who give no readings at all – because they’re dead, or they live in Ulan Bator, or they simply don’t want to.

Here’s another issue that’s surely just as worth attending to as the poets/actors debate. Over in the fiction room, they’re getting worked up about the opening up of the Man Booker prize to English-language novels by writers who don’t happen to be from the UK, the Commonwealth and Ireland: there’s worry that the Americans (whose own Pulitzers are for themselves only) will simply walk over everyone else. In the poetry room, both the Forward and the T. S. Eliot prizes have always been open to Americans. There’s an argument perhaps worth making for heading in the opposite direction to the Booker and having one of these two prizes restricted to UK/Commonwealth/Irish writers. Little Englandism? The new Goldsmiths Prize (‘to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form’) is open only to UK or Irish writers, but that’s a very fine shortlist they’ve come up with.


Sheenagh Pugh said...

I agree about that, Charles. I was a bit uneasy seeing books on the shortlists which, though they had been published by British houses, had first been published some time ago in the US and had had every chance to win prizes over there. I would restrict it to collections first published in the UK or Commonwealth.

Neil Astley said...

I disagree. We are part of an English-speaking poetry community which includes Britain, Ireland, North America and the Commonwealth, and it is right that the Forward and Eliot Prizes should be for a new collection by poets from all those places, but there is a restriction that the book has to be published here, so that doesn't open up the floodgates. Poets seem obsessed with the Forward and Eliot, but the Costa Awards, sells more books and reaches more readers, and that is a prize restricted to writers who live in Britain or Ireland. So we already have a major poetry prize, the Costa Poetry Award, which is only for writers from these islands and which focuses on having that literary identity attached to it.

charles said...

Neil, yes. Except that the Costa requires a contribution of £3,000 from the publisher ('towards the general promotion of the winning books') if their entry happens to win the poetry category, and I suspect that excludes many small presses who do submit for the Forward and TSE (which have no such requirement). The playing field isn't level.

Anonymous said...

1) A bigger field ups the overall level. 2) Globalisation reduces the charm of the homegrown.

Wouldn't it be reasonable to insist that all the books under consideration have been published for the first time ever that year in Britain as in other parts of the world? This would partially respond to Sheenagh's objection.

There's also a question about judges. Just as male and female judges respond differently to the writing of men and women, British and American judges will look for different things. Will the contests remain British in their judges? or like the Griffin (which has a special category for Canadian writers, for better or for worse) become international?

As a Canadian, who lives in France and the US, part of me feels it a shame to Americanise British writing, especially when things don't tend to work the other way round. Another part of me promptly disagrees.

Beverley Brahic