Filling in for Jon Ware, I was planning to expound upon my rather considerable knowledge of 19th Scottish servants’ ‘found poetry’, disguised as shopping lists.
But then I took a look (as one does) at today’s literary prize scene, and what I saw there filled me with loathing and righteous bile. Take the renowned ‘Silkies’, or, as they’ve become known under Phil Brown’s dubious leadership, ‘The London-and-Kent Haberdashers/International Imitation Cider Distillery Silkie Awards’. Let me give you some examples of the ways in which this potentially fantastic poetry award has sunk into cynical, mainstream self-congratulation.
Best Title of a Collection
I won’t even attempt to go into the obvious self-contradiction of such a category’s existence.
Best Title of a Poem
The cynical, mainstream disregard for other forms and other media is sickening. Apologists for Brown will probably whine that the ‘Silkies’ are supposed to be a ‘poetry’ award. I spit back in their faces,
“What about Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall- is there not audacious poetry in giving that title to a book which spends much of its length in halls more relevant to the plot and with more metaphorical power than Wolf Hall itself? And how about the poetic juxtapositions of Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard? What,” I add, poking them in their tobacco-weakened, possibly cravat-wearing chests, “about Ugandan artist Abraham Karungi’s utterly poetic series of pottery David Beckhams?”
Best Cover Illustration
Best Press Photo
Sickening favouritism. Why wasn’t I, I wonder, entered into the running?
Best Name of Poet
Sickening gimmickry to attract the nouveau-intellectuals.
Best Use of Box Brackets
This category is actually pretty good. Still, Brown’s obvious pandering to the so-called ‘Rape Poet’ movement (see also the winner of Best Cover Illustration) is inappropriate and sickening. I wonder he didn’t award Best Title of a Collection to his crony James Harringman’s cynical, mainstream collection ‘A Rapist’s Handbook: Japes and Rapes of an Englishman in the Brecon Beacons’.
Enough is enough, I say. And so it is (with great reluctance) that I’ve taken it upon myself to single-handedly rescue the literary prize scene from the abyss into which it has sunk.
My theory is this; when, say, authors claim that prizes are killing literary fiction, they really mean that they themselves are too feckless, impressionable and stupid to be able to accept a large sum of money and a couple of newspaper interviews without instantly sinking into a mountain of cocaine, dubbing themselves ‘The Second Coming of Colonial Fiction’ and not writing a single word for the next eighteen months. Then, perhaps, they’ll write a mawkish second novel about the appalling pressures of being an author with money and fame.
My point is this; that prizes are only dangerous (like heroin) when they cease to be a tool of the author’s, and the author becomes a tool of the prize. A great deal of this comes from this sense of an inner circle; the utter lack of self-reflection of those who run the awards.
So it is with this in mind that I am proud to announce the inaugural Inkies, a prize awarded to the finest (and the foulest) of literary prizes. The winners may not alter a great deal over the years. Each prize-winning prize will win the opportunity of a lifetime- I offer myself to you, to add my expertise and cutting insight to the drab C-list celebrities and Michael Portillos that usually make up your judging panels. I also may not punch you in the face when next we meet.
Most Worrying Dagger Fixation:
Goes to the Crime Writers’ Association, for their Dagger in the Library, Debut Dagger, Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, Gold Dagger, Cartier Diamond Dagger, Dagger in the Library, Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, John Creasey Memorial New Blood Dagger, Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, and their most sinisterly-titled Short Story Award.
Apparently, this year Chuck Swain’s The Blood Doth Stream Over The Prawn Cocktails, a detective novel set at the awards, in which the year’s most exciting crime novelists are killed off one by one, is predicted to win all ten.
Most Likely To Be Barked Out By A Drill-Sergeant With Little Ear For The Subtleties Of Rhythm:
Goes to the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Fiction.
Most Likely To Have Been Won By Henning Mankell Or Stieg Larsson:
Goes to the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award.
Prize For Under-35s Dedicated To The Memory of An Author With A Name That Could Surely Never Have Belonged To Anyone Under 35:
Goes to the Betty Trask Award.
‘Hilarious, Affectionate’ Prize Nickname Most Likely To Induce Nausea, Psychosis:
Goes to the British Book Awards, aka ‘The Nibbies’. As it will every year.
Most Tenuous Link Between Prize Name and Prize Subject:
A hard decision, this one. But in the end we settled on The Macavity Award, named after T.S. Eliot’s Mack the Knife- inspired ‘mystery cat’ and master criminal. The prize itself is awarded to writers of mystery fiction, rather than, say, fiction about master criminals or talking animals.
Most Exciting New Prize
Goes to the Warwick Prize for Writing. It really was very good last year.
Children’s Book Prize Title Least Likely To Have Been Chosen By An Actual Child:
Many worthy applicants this year; the Amelia Frances Howard Gibbon Illustrator’s Award was disqualified, although we’re still uncertain how many children could have pronounced the late Canadian children’s author’s name in one breath. Which means that the award goes to the Cool Awards, a title so cringe-inducing in its attempt to reflect its young readership that I was almost moved to pity. The fact that Cool is an acronym only, to my mind, exacerbates the prize’s crimes against actual coolness.
I’m afraid that’s all we have time for- this year, at least. But do come back next time around for another session of the Inkies; the one literary prize that will never compromise its integrity by selling out into the mainstream.
Donald ‘Voice of the’ Everyman
Jon Ware is away
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