Dear Mr. Griffin,
On behalf of only myself, a reader and writer of poetry, I would like to thank you for the Griffin Poetry Prize and its activities, including book donations and literary festivals. I appreciate what you and the trustees have done and continue to do to promote poetry.
At this time however, I want to comment on your new initiative to start a national poetry recitation contest for students. While I think the idea is wonderful in spirit I have some reservations which I hope you will address:
1. Choice of poems-perhaps it is a question of copyright, but I don’t understand why all the poems had to be from the 19th and early 20th centuries only. These are the typical poems found in student anthologies. Why not allow the students to choose poems on their own and make their selection part of the criteria? Why not include contemporary work so that the students will understand that poetry is alive today and written by living people whose concerns are similar to their own?
2. Memorization: You mention in information about the prize how your father would force you to memorize poems as a form of punishment. This is a very Dickensian way of treating a child and doing so today seems unnecessary and cruel. To associate poetry with punishment at all is unfortunate and not what one would hope to see the children remembering as adults: poetry = pain.
3. Recitation: a recited poem is an unnatural poem, Mr. Griffin. The vowels are elongated, the tones are rounded, the r’s are rolled. This is reminiscent of the days when elocution was taught at school and it’s weird. Poems are best when read naturally as if they are part of a conversation you are having with your audience, not as if you are up on a podium and preaching as a minister to your parish or a king to your populace. You say you don’t wish for poetry to be seen as elitist and yet recitation is surely an example of elitism. Do they get extra points for having an aristocratic British accent?
My request to you is to open up the contest to the reading of contemporary poetry, to dispense with this idea of memorization and recitation and to consider channelling your excellent energy and wealth into letting young people explore contemporary poetry by funding programs that allow Canadian poets to come to their schools, fund the distribution of contemporary anthologies to our school system, for example the Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology.
I believe your heart is in the right place, Mr. Griffin, but I think your actions are not. Poetry in Voice is a throwback to an earlier era when children were allowed to speak only when spoken to and young ladies learned how to behave properly. I know that the schools will eat up your Poetry In Voice contest with a fork and a spoon. You are validating their outdated poetry curricula, their outmoded learn by rote system of education and their continued efforts to educate children by turning them into parrots or automatons, incapable of thinking or creating for themselves. Please either reconsider this contest or change it to include contemporary poetry.
ps-if other Canadian poets feel the same, I urge you to write your own letter to Mr. Griffin and post your thoughts on your blogs etc.
pps- i have e-mailed my concerns to the only e-mail i have available alas, a general e-mail :
info at poetryinvoice dot com