Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Montreal International Poetry Prize winners read at Arts Court

A group of young Montrealers surprised the poetry world last year by offering a prize of $50,000 for a single poem in English by anyone in the world, promising that the competition would become an annual event, funded mainly by entry fees. In addition to the big prize, an anthology of 50 short-listed poems was to be published, as well as a broadsheet designed by a prominent artist to illustrate one of the short-listed poems chosen by the artist.
On Saturday, April 28, in the midst of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, the two winners arrived in Ottawa on the last leg of their reading tour. Grand-prize winner Mark Tredinnick of Sydney, Australia, and broadsheet prize winner Linda Rogers of Victoria, B.C., read at ArtsCourt.
Well-known Canadian poet Linda Rogers gave a brief reading, including an excerpt from her novel The Empress Letters. In her characteristic lush, elegant language, Rogers revisited some horrific episodes in recent history, especially involving a violence against women. While she apologized to the audience for the lack of comic relief, she made the point that it is important to witness the devastating effect that violence has on the lives of everyone involved.
Mark Tredinnick’s reading included many topical references and a “political” poem about his country’s exclusionary policies toward refugees, but he argued that the chief social role of poetry may be to counteract the rhetoric of politics by directing attention back to the constants of the physical world, family and love. A former lawyer and a lecturer on environmental law. Tredinnick came rather late to poetry, and in the past decade has established himself as a major voice in Australian poetry. His prize-winning poem, however, is based on his first trip to North America, last year.
The Ottawa audience warmed to Tredinnick’s vigorous yet reflective poems, both his preferred long-line meditations on the natural world and his occasional syllable-counting lyrics. Apart from a few unfamiliar words – antipodean animals and trees, for instance – his idiomatic writing seemed approachable and familiar to his Canadian audience. And he graciously opened his session by reading poems by others: the Australian poet Debbie Lim (who told him about the Montreal contest), and Canadian poet Jan Zwicky.
Tredinnick mentioned how pleased he was that five Australian poets had been selected (by Andrew Motion in a blind judging) for the Global Poetry Anthology. Another three of the short-listed poets were also included, and they opened the evening with brief readings of their own. Congratulations to Peter Richardson, Barbara Myers, and Maria Borys.
The Montreal International Poetry Prize is intended to be repeated annually, and its launch must be judged a big success. Winner Mark Tredinnick did comment, however, that there is room for improvement. For instance, nothing was set aside to promote the winners or the prize anthology, so Tredinnick and Rogers had to organize and finance their own cross-Canada tour by train. The little-publicized reading would also have benefited from being associated with the OIWF, which was happening across town at the same time. Fifty thousand dollars for a single poem, and he still rates the prize “could do better”? Well, yes. Tredinnick is equally demanding of us own work; the winning poem is not his favorite of the ones he sent in to the contest. No doubt, he will try to do better next time.

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