Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm assuming it's a mistake, even though I was told it wasn't...

This post may be completely invalid if "Persistent Voices: Poets Lost to AIDS" was not meant to be placed in The Gay Men's Poetry category and instead LGBT Anthologies for this year's Lambda Literary Awards. Two different people (one associated with the Lambda Awards) told me this wasn't a mistake. I was asked to keep the sources anonymous. I will delete this post if I received inaccurate information.

I have a number of problems with this decision (if it is indeed true):

1.) An anthology should be in a category for anthologies if one is available. And there is.

2.) It is unethical to pit a a volume of poets (plural) against a single-authored book (singular). It's a tag team.

3.) In an anthology, you're choosing a few of a author's best poems. In a single-authored volume of poetry, you have inevitably a range of quality. (My attitude is if the author has one poem you love, it's worth buying. How often does lightening strike in the same place?) In other words: it seems that it could only be fair to compare the best two or three poems of one author in the anthology with two or three of the best poems of the single-authored volume.

4.) One judges an anthology different than a book of poems. I would make the claim that the actual quality of the poems included in an anthology are in a way less significant. When I read an anthology, I'm looking for issues of typography, cultural and aesthetic diversity, layout, introduction, development of theme, contemporary relevance etc. etc. etc. These issues are of primary importance. I judge a single-author volume of poems simply on the aesthetic merit of the work.

5.) What judge is going to have the conviction to rank an AIDS anthology below a single-author book of poems? I will be using "Persistent Voices" in my intermediate undergraduate workshop as the central text. And from my somewhat cursory scanning of the book, it looks exactly what I'm looking for as a pedagogical tool One of my pedagogical challenges is to push my students beyond making simple sentimental readings of the poem. (Not that sentimentality is necessarily a bad thing. Or primary objective.) For so many gay poets, it would be equally if not more difficult to choose a single-authored book as opposed to an anthology possibly containing poems written by deceased friends, lovers etc.. This intensifies a politicized sentimental attachment to the anthology. And in the context of a contest warps the ability to make as objective assessments. And who can blame them?

6.) It may be said that my questioning of the placement of the anthology doesn't matter. Let's simply recognize those who have passed away This award would be a testament to their work. I would say this sort of claim yields a certain anti-intellectualism, making the awards pointless. Why even create a contest which should revel in the fun of ranking books if you're not going to maintain a logical maintenance of the various categories?

7.) I can't tell, but it seems there are no other anthologies of poetry in the LGBT anthology. This doesn't make any difference. There are so many different kinds of prose in the anthology category (romance to non-fiction to at least one containing multiple genres) It's as difficult to assess various prose genres against one another as an anthology of poetry against prose.

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