Louis Esterhuizen. Kontroversie rondom vanjaar se Forward-prys vir poësie

Die Forward-prys vir poësie is met ‘n prysgeld van £10,000 waarskynlik die mees gesogte prys vir die digkuns in die Britse lettere. Die kortlys vir vanjaar se prys, wat verlede week bekend gemaak is, het almal egter sprakeloos gelaat aangesien dit net uit manlike digters bestaan, naamlik twee voormalige wenners van die Forward-prys, Sean O’Brien en David Harsent, tesame met die Whitbread-wenner John Burnside, Oxford se poetry professor Geoffrey Hill, Michael Longley, reus van die Ierse digkuns, en laastens D Nurske, ‘n relatief onbekende Brooklynse digter.

Volgens The Guardian het Andrew Motion, sameroeper van die keurkomitee, hom soos volg oor dié manneklub uitgelaat: “Of course it was a matter of concern for us that the shortlist for the Best Collection was all-male,” het hy glo gesê. “But equally of course the judges (three women and two men) had to choose the books they liked best as collections of poetry. It’s worth pointing out, too, that the same criteria led us to choose four books by women and two by men in the Best First Collection section, and two poems by women and two by men in the Best Single Poem category.”

Nou ja, toe. Met hierdie verduideliking is daar natuurlik geen fout te vind nie, behalwe dat indien ‘n mens na die vorige pryswenners sedert die vestiging van die Forward-prys vir poësie in 1992 kyk, dit blyk dat daar slegs drie vrouewenners was, te wete Kathleen Jamie, Jo Shapcott and Carol Ann Duffy.

Wat sou die rede vir dié toedrag van sake wees? Seksisme? Volgens The Guardian se beriggewer nie werklik nie:  “I don’t want to level such an accusation, not really. I have no doubt that, every year, the Forward judges worked long and hard to give the prize to the collection that, in their estimation, was the very best in show. I know we did, and I fully stand by our choice. But that said, I find it difficult to accept that, over the past 20 years, male poets in the UK have outperformed female poets by a ratio of nearly 7:1. So what’s going on? Why do we find, again and again, in poetry and literature more generally, that men continue to dominate when it comes to prizes?”

Hierna kyk die betrokke beriggewer na verskeie (moontlike) verklarings, maar konkludeer uiteindelik soos volg: “The society in which we operate isn’t gender neutral yet, and it seems that our prizes reflect this. We’re still in the middle of a paradigm shift, from a patriarchal society to a gender-blind one. A century ago, if the shortlist for a poetry prize had been all-male, no one would have thought to bat an eyelid. Paradoxically, we’ll know we’ve hit equality when the same is true again.”

Inderdaad. En waarskynlik is dit presies net so van toepassing op ons eie situasie hier ter lande … Of wat praat ek nou?

Nietemin, ek is besonder bly dat Sean O’Brien, een van my gunstelingdigters oor wie ek in ‘n vorige Nuuswekker geskryf het, hom weer in dié uitverkore geledere bevind. Sy werk is reeds by drie vorige geleenthede met die Forward-prys vir poësie bekroon. (En kontak gerus ‘n bepaalde boekwinkel op Stellenbosch indien jy van sy bundels wil aanskaf. Ek weet toevallig dat hulle heelwat voorraad het.)

Intussen kan jy jou verlekker aan die gedig hieronder.

***

Cousin Coat

You are my secret coat. You’re never dry.
You wear the weight and stink of black canals.
Malodorous companion, we know why
It’s taken me so long to see we’re pals,
To learn why my acquaintance never sniff
Or send me notes to say I stink of stiff.

But you don’t talk, historical bespoke.
You must be worn, be intimate as skin,
And though I never lived what you invoke,
At birth I was already buttoned in.
Your clammy itch became my atmosphere,
An air made half of anger, half of fear.

And what you are is what I tried to shed
In libraries with Donne and Henry James.
You’re here to bear a message from the dead
Whose history’s dishonoured with their names.
You mean the North, the poor, and troopers sent
To shoot down those who showed their discontent.

No comfort there for comfy meliorists
Grown weepy over Jarrow photographs.
No comfort when the poor the state enlists
Parade before their fathers cenotaphs.
No comfort when the strikers all go back
To see the twenty thousand get the sack.

Be with me when they cauterise the facts.
Be with me to the bottom of the page,
Insisting on what history exacts.
Be memory, be conscience, will and rage,
And keep me cold and honest, cousin coat,
So if I lie, I’ll know you’re at my throat.

 

© Sean O’Brien (Uit: “Cousin Coat: Selected Poems” (Picador, 2001)

 

 

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