Thursday, 5 July 2012

Killdeer by Phil Hall

Started: June 16, 2012
Finished: July 5, 2012
Pages: 118

The last book of poetry to appear on this blog went slowly because reading it was so intense.  Every poem had a lot to offer,  and each one demanded some space and time to absorb.

This one....well, for most of the time I was reading it, I was actually reading 3 other books (The Diviners, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, and The Nonesuch).  That hinders progress. But the real reason this one went slowly is that I didn't enjoy it all that much.

I was initially puzzled as to why this book is a GG award winner.  It hardly seems like poetry:  more like short boring essays written to scan like modern poetry.  You know:
"I read the first poem--
and couldn't understand
read another"

My initial working theory was that the book won a Governor General's award because it is self-consciously "Canadian Literature".  For example, one early piece in the collection is about the "writer" meeting Margaret Laurence, and there are multiple other callouts to Irving Layton, George Grant, etc. etc.  I think chances are even that this book won a GG because the judges of the GGs are Canadian authors.  It reminds me of an experience I had as a young woman.   Just for fun, I "competed" in a blitz poetry competition at my local public library that was sponsored by the CBC.  Every competitor drew a page of a dictionary, and had 10 minutes to compose a poem that used one of the dictionary words they'd drawn.  The 3rd prize winner confided to me that the sure fire cheap-ass way to get on the winner's list was to use the names of the judges and CBC personalities who were present in your poem.  It worked for him!  And while the prize jury did not include the named authors (I think they're all dead),  if you're competing for the Griffin Prize, it probably doesn't hurt to appeal to the Canadian judges.

I did warm slightly to the book as it drew to a close.  I enjoyed some of the later poems, like the scathing "The Bad Sequence", and the seemingly autobiographical "A thin plea".  But.....I still suspect that the book is a prize winner because it appeals to prize judges.  The subject matter is often writing, writers, and the writer's life.  Many of the references are to the work of other authors.  I think I'd have gotten more out of it if I were a professor of English literature.  In other words....even the best poems are not really for general reader.

If you're looking for poetry, read Memory's Daughter, whose imagery and some of its subject matter is drawn from the world of science.

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