The $50,000 Montreal International Poetry Prize has just announced that Australian poet and essayist Mark Tredinnick, who lives in the highlands southwest of Sydney, has been awarded the inaugural prize for his poem, Walking Underwater…Oh, thanks for explaining that to me. Having read the poem, for a moment there I thought maybe you meant that a blind man had plucked the thing out of a hat. Also, I wonder if it was perhaps a bit uncharitable to publicise the author’s name, even after the winning selection was made. I see a grim future in which friends, running into Tredinnick on the street, will smile pityingly at him, then suddenly glance at their watches, remembering an appointment elsewhere. Children – you know how cruel they can be! – will hold their noses in his presence. Stray dogs will bark at him, not in anger but in scorn.
The nonprofit Montreal International Poetry Prize represents a new approach to major literary awards, being the first major literary prize to be awarded "blind," meaning the author's identity is not revealed to the judge until after the winner has been selected.
Read it for yourselves. Over in Tim’s comment section, I described this nature poem as sounding like a drunk park ranger talking in his sleep. Quite aside from its fundamental awfulness - its hip obscurantism, its half-baked metaphors, its affectation of a dream-like state, it’s prosy lack of meter – there is the rich, though unwitting, comedy of the mention of Neruda in the third stanza. If Tredinnick possessed even a fraction of the Chilean poet’s gifts, he might have managed an interesting, albeit derivative, piece of work; entirely lacking in those gifts, however, he simply plunks the man’s name down in his poem, perhaps hoping for favorable comparisons from friendly critics (kind of like low-priced, store-brand products at a grocery – a bottle of mouthwash, say, with the invitation at the bottom of the label to “compare with Listerine”).
Somewhere - like Jimmy Carter, watching with mounting excitement as Barack Obama promises to take the presidential grand booby-prize, after all – the spirit of J. Gordon Coogler is keeping its ectoplasmic fingers crossed.