Thursday, May 17, 2007

Don't read me...

... go read Zach.

I agree with just about everything Zach says – except the line about "ersatz stuff peddled on every streetcorner and campus quad," streetcorner poetry pedlars being a rarity at best, and thankfully so.

That boring crap is made no less boring or crappy by virtue of the themes it "investigates" is a truth so self-evident it's a mystery why it continues to get overlooked by so many writers, editors, and critics. However, it is possible to run too far in the opposite direction when trying to distance oneself from the more nationalistic critical structures of Atwood or Frye. Most of the reading I have done, and which has shaped my own thoughts about what fiction can and should do, has been British and American, which I am fairly sure is the case with a lot of writers. For the longest time, that fact didn't bother me – you go where the food is freshest and most plentiful, after all. Maybe it's a side-effect of living in this massively multicultural city for the past decade, but for a while now I've felt more of a yearning to see more distinctly Canadian experiences transformed into art. And that includes the multicultural fact of this city, warts and all, in case any anybody thinks I am getting wistful for the old days of Scotch-Protestant hegemony. Though even there, I am personally interested, as a writer, in the pockets of passive resistance to the "good new days." In the ways in which, say, Ontario's essential cold-bloodedness – see: Munro, Alice – can continue to reign all-but supreme, even as the province becomes more diverse and interesting on the ground. That's a visceral cultural tension you'd think more writers would be leaping on hungrily.

That's all to say that it would be going too far to say that a work's Canadianness it totally irrelevant to how it gets received. Mediocrity should not be cheered on, wherever it's from, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't hope a little harder for success for the home team, or feel particularly despondent when it goes into a slump, for this very reason (from Zach): "a country's poetry should be one of the things that shapes it."

ADDED: As Adam Gopnik wrote about Mordecai Richler:
He had to write about a city (and country) that didn't quite know it was one, about the manners of a tribe who hadn't been told they had them. The urge to inventory a reality that everyone else thought was merely a dependency, one that didn't really count.
What he said. Except that – now, and here – tribe has become tribes, and all that entails.

Not that it is the only possible one, but "the urge to inventory a reality that everyone else thinks is merely a dependency," is, by the way, a great response to the question (often self-directed), why write?

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