Thursday, March 19, 2009

What a funny thing the David Cohen prize is. It's just awarded 40,000 pounds to Seamus Heaney. In its short life - it started in 1993 and Heaney is only the ninth winner - it has been awarded to three Nobel laureates. Let's take someone who has been awarded the literary world's highest possible public honour, with all its associated money and fame, and give them another prize. Great idea! They don't need it, but at least it'll make our prize seem prestigious.

I'm getting terribly cynical.

The prize was presented by the chair of the judges, our old friend, Andrew Motion.

9 comments:

AidanSemmens said...

Cynical - you? And you didn't even note the coincidence that last year's "prestigious" £15,000 TS Eliot Prize went to Sean O'Brien, who in his capacity as professor of creative writing at Newcastle happens to be the boss of WN Herbert, who was one of the three judges...
Sure, Heaney probably doesn't need the money, but at least he can write.

Alan Baker said...

Ah, Sean O'Brazen and his chums. They're always up to something. He nabbed the Forward prize that year as well. But don't get me started...

As for Heaney, I agree with Alistair Noon who said that his best work is the Bog Poems. Fine work, but written a long time ago.

Hey, I didn't know you were friends with Ric Caddell. Do you have a connection to the north-east?

AidanSemmens said...

Sure I have a north-east connection - I'm 'from' Durham. That is to say, I moved there at 14, returned at 24 after a few years 'away' at uni, first job etc and went to work for the Sunderland Echo, ending up as sports editor for eight years. Ric was a long-time close friend and along with Tony Baker, who I also met in Durham, more influential than anyone in keeping me interested in poetry. By happenstance, the Colpitts pub, which gave its name and sometimes its back room to the readings Ric staged, was for many years my local.

Sam said...

Cynical? No. Though this piece over on The Guardian's books blog suggests that the quote greatest poet of our age unquote should be getting even more.

Alan Baker said...

Poor old Seamus had to stoop to "lecturing and creative-writing academic posts".

I'm all for more state money to poetry, but sounds like Sutherland wants the formation of a Premier League (with Sean and his chums competing to lift the "Greatest Poet of our Age" trophy no doubt).

AidanSemmens said...

Hmm - I'm not all for state money to poetry. And not particularly for creative-writer residencies or big hand-outs to Heaneys either.
Who was it defined art as something you'd do even if you weren't paid for it? (can it really have been Tracey Emin?) The result of funding art is more often than not shit, and not just under the Soviet commissars.
Surely part of the reason Motion, O'Brien, Armitage and all the rag-taggle of them exude such pus is that they are consciously writing for "the market" (as if there was one).
On the other hand: it might be fun to start voting now for that "Greatest Poet of our Age" title. My vote would be for Roy Fisher.

Alan Baker said...

Well, when I say I'm for state money to poetry, I mean I'd rather it went there than to fighting wars or into the pockets of RBS shareholders, but I take your point: the act of creation should have nothing to do with sponsors or patrons. But for readings, publishing, festivals, etc, money is useful.

I'm a bit wary of looking for 'Major Poets', not because I don't believe they exist, but because the search can get in the way of appreciating poetry, and can start people creating canons and orthodoxies. However... I can see Roy Fisher would be a candidate, for his sheer variety. On the other hand, there's Tom Raworth for his innovation (but not variety). And if you extend it outside these islands, it gets more difficult... John Ashbery?... There was a discussion about this on this here blog last year, click here to see it.

AidanSemmens said...

Rebuke accepted. Canons and orthodoxies are always a lurking danger in this game. On the other hand, I can't afford either the money or the time to read all the poetry available, so it's handy to have some steer on whether to read, say, Robert Sheppard or Simon Armitage, Rufo Quintavalle (?) or Tony Harrison.

John B-R said...

Re: taking state money. I remember the same questions being raised when Sam Johnson accepted that pension ... (well, I don't *personally* remember) ... re: the "Greatest Poet of Our Age" game, might I ask, Aidan, what criteria you'd use? To adopt yr metaphor, what stars would you steer by?