amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a follow up

I’m not suggesting that writers should lie about what they are trying to achieve in order to placate evaluators, not at all. I’m suggesting that they learn how to write about their work and convey these thoughts to evaluators by means of the project description.

Oh, and one thing that tends to burn my ass is the creation of binaries. For example, the idea that either you write project-based poetry, and that sucks, or you write random, unrelated poetry, and that’s excellent. Some work is perceived in book lengths and other in poem lengths. I don’t see one as having a higher quality than the other. It depends on the work.

For myself, my work is often project-based. I find trying to write random, unrelated poems difficult and forced more than I do with long poems or poem series. The long poem and the poem series are long standing traditions within the Canadian canon. When I am working on a series or a long poem, I still have to reject crap. I’m not going to force work into a project if it’s no good. That’s just standard writing procedure.

Furthermore, the idea that a writer should be able to receive public funding based on reputation alone irks me. I don’t believe in that. I think the funding should be based solely on the merits of the work itself, including the writer’s ability to provide a cohesive and coherent statement about her work.

Since we’re talking about reform to the grant application process, one change I would like to see is the elimination of the writer’s publication record in the application. Why? Because I think grants should be awarded based on the quality of the work and not based on some sense of entitlement based on what the writer has done before. I know many a talented writer with limited publication credentials because the status quo journals haven’t seen fit to publish innovative and unusual writing. The insistence on having to be published in recognizable paying publications leads to poetry homogeneity.

There is a case to be made for awarding money to those with proven records of having been paid for work and completed books. Even now, many grants award more money to established writers than to emerging writers; however, I still believe emerging writers should have access to funds to give them a chance to show what they can do, based, of course, on the quality of the work.

Finally, i should have linked to the post which I’m responding to, which was written by Zachariah Wells on his blog.

12 comments:

functional nomad said...

I wonder if the Project Description could be made more open, though, as a kind of compromise to the problem Zach raises. I mean, it is the same with all grants -- that you need to know what you are going to be doing, almost to the point of having already done it. Still, I wonder if the description couldn't be expanded to include "Intellectual/Aesthetic Context" for a work, so that writers could retain the potential for discovery in an ongoing book, and instead write about the things/texts that are inspiring them to write at a particular moment. Just a thought!

GB

Amanda said...

makes sense to me, Greg. something to query a project officer about, i would think. what exactly does project description mean? sometimes bureaucrats apply a specialized meaning to a term that the general public uses more broadly.

Zachariah Wells said...

As I just said on Pearl's blog, I don't know where you get the idea I'm saying "reputation alone" should determine success in the grant lottery. I specifically said "past performance" and "recent writing sample." Which means that jurors should actually be familiar with the writer's body of work (not just with their rep., which are very different things) and that they need to compare the writing sample to that of all other applicants. These are solid criteria compared with a project description, which amounts to no more than a promise. And one which is very rarely kept as it is, and therefore meaningless.

As for the argument that we need to appease the technocrats, well I've already voiced my distaste for this particular brand of cringe.

Amanda said...

well we disagree. and this year's Canada Council grants insist on project descriptions. i won't repeat why project descriptions or some kind of coherent and rationale statement about one's work are essential to the evaluation process. and to not wish to follow the rules of an application process, to me, mean that the applicant does not wish or deserve to win the grant.there are others who are committed to doing what they say in their proposals and sincere in trying their best to achieve the goals they have set out and are willing to learn from the experience. as for past performance and reputation, one part of that reputation consists in the follow up reports when applying for subsequent grants.

Zachariah Wells said...

"there are others who are committed to doing what they say in their proposals and sincere in trying their best to achieve the goals they have set out and are willing to learn from the experience."

So, if I understand you right, Amanda, you're saying that it's better to tailor one's working methods to the formula of a grant than it is to produce strong original writing in a method that does not conform? And that, if you choose the latter method, you disqualify yourself from support? If this isn't what you're saying, you should be aware that it follows logically from what you're saying. I.e.: that it's better for a writer to be a trained seal than an artist. Last I checked, we're not behind the iron curtain...

Amanda said...

i think you're exagerating there, Zach. i don't need to respond to hyperbole. if you think you have a case for changes, as i've said over on FB, you should talk directly to the project officers and see what they say.

Amanda said...

also I know many a writer who has applied for and received grants from the Canada Council. their work is good and they are conscientious and diligent in their proposals. throughout your post and your comments, you have intimated or stated that project based poetry is somehow lesser and that project descriptions are rarely carried out. i have a problem with such statements and think it undermines the hard work of many great writers who are trying to get support for their writing within the rules that have been set. this is a reasonable thing to do. to ask for change to allow those who do not write project based poetry is also reasonable. to malign the work of either is not reasonable and i don't support that attitude. before you tell me you haven't done that, i could go thru your blog entry and your comments and point out the accumulation of slurs against project based poetry, but i think i've spent enough time. my main goal in writing this entry was to provide an alternate point of view, which i've done. perhaps your blog entry and open letter to the CC will encourage people to ask about the project description in future.

Zachariah Wells said...

I have said nothing against "project-based poetry" as such. Some great books have been written this way--including my wife's. I'm saying that it isn't for everyone and it isn't for the CC to push people in that direction. And that because they push people in that direction, they have only themselves to blame for "violations" of their terms.

functional nomad said...

re: pushing poets as violation... this assumes, of course, that it isn't their and by extension the government's prerogative to do that pushing and to shape the national literature as they see fit. they could cut all funding to poetry and barely 1% of 1% would likely notice.

have you (being either of you, or anybody) seen Darren Werschler's antifesto that decries how government funding in Canada turns/has turned all us writers into bureaucrats? Frank Davey used to decry poets fighting each other over small slices of the grant pie, but Darren makes the point that the whole policy of dessert eating shapes us profoundly in a toxic manner.

Amanda said...

i don't know about the stats, Greg, but i agree that many would not care or notice if funding to poetry were cut completely.

i haven't seen Darren's antifesto. i shall have to look it up. i don't think responding to required information on a grant application turns me into a bureaucrat. i have to do a lot of other things too like fill out my tax forms etc. it's just part of living in the world. if you want money from an organization with specific rules, you have to follow their rules or run the risk of not getting the money. that's the way of the world. now i wish to turn my attention to other things, so i'll post other's comments if they wish to go on with the discussion, but won't add anything new myself. i'm repeating at this point.

functional nomad said...

Hi Amanda -- sorry to dominate the comment stream. I suppose my point, rather awkwardly put before, is that I don't take these programs for granted (pun!). And further that I am grateful when my works fits, but wary of the temptation to fit a project to the grant. That's all. Bonne chance!

Amanda said...

your comments are always welcome. as are anyone else's. it's mine i'm tired of hearing ;)