Wednesday, April 4, 2012
While I love National Poetry Month, it is also frustrates me. It frustrates me because the poets that get the press coverage and spots on the 'ones to watch' lists do not reflect the diversity of Canada. I took a look at a recent list and was shocked to see that GG nominees were not on that list, and there were only a handful (it's a long list) of poets from diverse backgrounds. Now, I'm not about representation for the sake of representation. Nor am I about tokenism. I don't think bad poets should be on the list simply for the sake of diversity. However, I could name a handful of people who should've been on that list who are, in fact, 'visible minorities' (and I cringe at that term). So why have they been conveniently ignored?
It angers me that there's only room for a certain 'minimalist' 'free verse' 'urban' 'hipster' aesthetic, and if you write from a more formalist, Eastern tradition, such as in my case, you're deemed 'romantic', 'orientalist' 'excessive' 'flighty'. I don't have a problem with the various styles and manifestations of poetic expression, as long as they are given equal value. Rumi, a sufi mystic who wrote in very complicated poetic forms, has one of the largest poetry sections in one of the largest bookstore chains in Canada. Let's not forget the beloved Gwendolyn MacEwen, who taught herself Arabic and wrote a stunning collection of poems inspired by T.E Lawrence (a.k.a "The Lawrence of Arabia").
When my book, Bleeding Light, was published, it wasn't reviewed by poetry critics in Canada. It was, however, reviewed in South Asian magazines and journals. It was, however, reviewed in a highly respected journal from Kenya, East Africa. So why, I thought, did I not get a review in Canada? I grew up here, I learned my first word here, I wrote my first poem here. But I'm a niche within a niche.
This is not just the case with me, but with a lot of poets I know.
So what do we do about it?
Start TALKING about the poets you think deserve more attention and coverage.
Give them a voice by appealing to literary media to cover/review their work.
Support them by buying their books.
Encourage people to attend their events.
Stop thinking about them as 'niche' poets, and view them as simply 'poets'
Nominate them. Promote them. Spread their message across social media networks.
Collaborate with them.
...and buy them a cup of coffee once in a while. or two.