Nikki Reimer: Make Mine Specific! : (a response to Stuart Ross)

In “Make mine miscellaneous!” which originally appeared in SubTerrain (#53) and on the blog Hunkamooga, Stuart Ross discusses his recent experiences as a juror on the Canada Council for the Arts poetry grants to emerging writers, and kvetches about the volume of “Project” or “Theme” books being proposed:

“But I ask: Why so many stinking Project and Theme books? And why are writers who describe themselves as “emerging” writing so many of ‘em? Shouldn’t writers who are learning the trade be trying out everything they can, creating a tangle of eclectic experiments, writing about any stupid thing that pops into their churning skull?”

I loathe the terms “emerging” and “aspiring” to describe writers. Emerging doesn’t account for the ongoing and continuous practice of a being a writer; “emerging” refers to mediation and publication, which are activities conferred by official organizations like magazines and publishing houses. Chapbooks don’t count. Community engagement and unofficial conversations and mentorship with other writers don’t count.

One either writes or does not write. One either takes oneself seriously as a writer, or one does not. One either subscribes to a capitalist impulse to categorize “good” and “bad” writing; “aspiring,” “emerging,” “emerged,” and “seasoned” writers, or one ignores all that bullshit and focuses on the writing itself. Ross comments on the former, but does not think far enough into the idea that emerging/emerged distinctions are rather arbitrary:

Our little cabal of three could do this [giving out grants for poetry to “emerging writers”] presumably because we were “emerged writers.”

Further, every time I hear or read “emerging” writer, all I can think about is something akin to Daniel Edwards’ “The birth of Sean Preston.” (picture above.)

The emerging writers category is the Canada Council’s, not necessarily the poet’s. From their website: Grants for emerging writers are intended for writers who have published one literary book with a professional publishing house or a minimum of four literary texts in literary magazines or recognized periodicals. A writer who applies under the emerging writer category (full disclosure: moi) may have been writing for ten or fifteen years or more, and may have already tried “everything they can” and spent time working out “any stupid thing that pops into their churning skull,” but they may not have published prolifically enough to fit into the “mid-career” category. I’d argue that this term is also problematic, but let that be taken up by a mid-career writer.

So Ross’ “favourite poetry books” belong to the “Miscellaneous breed.” But writers who are interested in form, structure, repetition and palimpsest (full disclosure: moi) may instead prefer to engage with books written out of or around a structuring theme, an idea or an argument.

Anyway, I see his:

Rhymes of a Jerk, by Larry Fagin. Pearl, by Lynn Crosbie. The Romantic Dogs, by Roberto Bolaño. Flutter, by Alice Burdick. Shroud of the Gnome, by James Tate. Jen Currin’s The Sleep of Four Cities. Your Name Here, by John Ashbery…

And raise him:

Forage by Rita Wong. Anything by Robert Kroetsch. The Men and The Weather by Lisa Robertson. Anarchive by Steve Collis. 9 Freight by Kim Minkus. Matter by Meredith Quartermain. Sybil Unrest by Larissa Lai & Rita Wong, Jen Currin’s Hagiography

Nikki Reimer blogs and plans arts events in Vancouver, where she is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing and a board member at W2 Community Media Arts. Her poetry has been published in such magazines as Matrix, Front, Prism, BafterC and filling Station. A chapbook, fist things first, was recently published by Wrinkle Press and a book, [sic], is forthcoming from Frontenac House. She has never been to grad school.

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