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Gimme a brick! The T. S. Eliot Prize controversy that shouldn't have been

John Burnside, winner of the T.S. Eliot poetry prize

Right off the top, let's get down to the bottom of all things poetic, that is, let's consider the fact one of the 10 short-listed poets for what many consider the most prestigious poetry honour in existence, the £15,000 ($23,385.34 CAD) T. S. Eliot Prize (bestowed by the maestro's widow, Mrs. Valerie Eliot), withdrew her book from contention after allowing Memorial to be submitted for the TSEP by her publisher, Faber & Faber:

"I'm uncomfortable about the fact that Aurum Funds, an investment company which exclusively manages funds of hedge funds, is sponsoring the administration of the Eliot Prize; I think poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions and for that reason I'm withdrawing from the Eliot shortlist," the UK dame I shall neither promo nor name haughtily opined.

Almost immediately, an Australian poet whose work also wound up on the shortlist, pulled Armour (Pan Macmillan) from said competition in one helluva blushing kowtow: "I am grateful," commenced he in his flop-foppering hat-tippery to the aforementioned woman and concluding with his heartfelt thanks to her "for bringing the sponsorship of the T. S. Eliot Prize" to his attention.

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Good Lard! Talk Grandiose Blandstanding! Had either poet considered their position with a modicum of interest in the real world, each would most surely have allowed their works to compete against the remaining eight collections, UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees (Picador), the 2011 recipient of the Forward Poetry Prize John Burnside's Black Cat Bone and Sean O'Brien's November (Pan Macmillan) foremost among them.

Nope. Nothing doing. "[A] an anti-capitalist in full-on form, that is my position . . . Hedge funds are at the very pointy end of capitalism," carped he before she wrote her own self-promo blogpost, bellyaching that poetry "represents the faint, honest voice in us all. So should it be funded by opaque hedge funds?"

Huh? Why did dirty filthy hedge-fund lucre not interest this above-it-all pair of purists (nor did it cross their minds that Eliot worked for Lloyds and, more to the point, most major prizes receive funding of some sort from the world of business and commerce, the Man Booker Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Scotiabank Giller Prize and yadda-yadda-yawn)?

"Being against hedge funds sounds as overly generalized as saying you don't like poetry," our very own investment specialist, the inimitable Rob Carrick, astutely explains: "Hedge funds have been villainized since the global financial crisis began in 2007. However, the real problem is not hedge funds in general, but certain greedy people who happen to run them. Such people can also be found working for banks, brokers and other arms of the financial industry; but, then so can honest conscientious people. I could see an objection to hedge-fund sponsorship, if a particular fund happened to be notably predatory. In general, though, it sounds a little naïve."

Thank you, Mr. Carrick. I love your class and style.

So? Who eventually and deservedly did snag the T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize?

Scotland's John Burnside, that's who; but, even then, his win for Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape) was tragically diminished by the fact the uppity pair had turned the entire process into such a me-me-meistic circus that stories ostensibly celebrating Burnside's achievement made much ado about the withdrawn ones in either their heads or ledes. Rather than simply let cry-gones be sigh-gones, The Guardian, the BBC, The Telegraph, et.ilk., the entire literary world — myself inclus, c'est vrai — in fact, elected to focus on the brouhahaggling kerfluffle first. Guilty.

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No more conversations. No more wedlock. No more vein of perfume in a scarf I haven't worn for months, her voice come back to haunt me, and the Hundertwasser sky Magnificat to how a jilted heart refuses what it once mistook for mercy . . .

Gorgeous, no? There's more to this Black Cat Bone:

It's never what we wanted, everafter; we asked for something else, a lifelong Reich of unexpected gifts and dolce vita, peach-blossom smudging the glass and a seasoned glimmer of the old days in this house where, every night, we tried and failed to mend that feathered thing we brought in from the yard, after it came to grief on our picture window.

And, should you find yourself wanting even more, simply park your browser here and download the audio of an interview / reading John Burnside granted The Guardian's Claire Armitstead yesterday. Forget that Aurum fluster-bluster from that pair of prima divae and luxuriate in the artistry of a poet at the top of his art and craft. Simply exquisite and worth its weight in bits and bytes.


Kudos to the Cobourg Poetry Workshop, marking its tenth anniversary of existence come Thursday (Jan. 19) with a reading by Toronto's Robin Richardson. Doors open @ 7 p.m. Refreshments a-plenty. Not to miss this since — Bonus! — Cobourg's august Poet Laureate Emeritus, Eric Winter, will join in the celebrations.

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(Hat tips, TGAM's Rob Carrick and AccessCopyright's Robert Gilbert.)

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