Top Tens, Tweets and Old Targets
The Can Lit Blogosphere was set abuzz this past week by the appearance of two Top 10 lists: ten Overrated and Underrated Canadian Authors.
Published by the National Post and written by Canadian literary reviewer-types Alex Good and Steven Beattie, the first was published to the Post’s site on Tuesday, the second on Wednesday, both appearing in the Saturday print edition of the newspaper.
Canadian author and Concordia Creative Writing professor Sina Queyras was voted co-Poet Laureate of the site, following a two-week online voting period in April. She has been active in discussing the matter via Twitter, and was willing to share her thoughts with The Link about the two lists.
The Link: You tweeted that both lists offended you. Which one did you find worse? Why?
Sina Queyras: Actually, I didn’t say that. One thing I tweeted was “Poetry thinks overrated, underrated, best of lists don’t make up for the paucity of rigorous, constructively provoking public discourse.” Lists make great poems. Letterman makes great use of lists. To foster literary discourse? Not so much.
It must be frustrating as a writer to see fellow authors denigrated. But isn’t the alternative—say, the National Post not writing about CanLit—worse?
Intelligent discourse about books is always a good thing. In general though, the National Post is currently picking up the slack on a lot of the national literary coverage and doing it with energy and style.
One of the overrated authors was Erin Mouré, a transplanted Montreal poet. She’s hardly a household name the way fellow listees are. In fact, a quick Google search shows her to have the fewest hits of all the writers on the overrated list. Were you surprised by her inclusion? Can you be considered overrated if you’re critically acclaimed but generally unknown?
I wasn’t at all surprised to see Mouré on the list. It’s not the first time she’s been a target. I did notice that these are writers who do well. And often do well outside of Canada. That seems to be a bad thing.
On the other hand, were you surprised that Margaret Atwood was left off the Overrated list? Given that she’s one of the most famous and most lauded Canadian writers, you’d think that suggests the writers thought she was due her acclaim.
Atwood is another old target. As far as Atwood goes, I think I recall her saying once, many years ago, that she didn’t understand why her work got all the attention it did and wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly vanished. Well, it hasn’t. Atwood is a public figure, well beyond her work, which is, yes, uneven, but the body of her work is formidable. If a writer takes risks there will be failures, or at least less successful texts. I can live with that.
You took issue with the homogeneity of the Underrated list (eight of the 10 authors on it had been published by two organizations helmed by Canadian scribe John Metcalf, Biblioasis, a literary press, and the magazine Canadian Notes & Queries). Do you see it as an attempt by the writers to push a particular breed of under-publicized authors onto the reading public?
I was quite prepared to see a new wave of voices that, perhaps, I wasn’t aware of. There were a couple that I haven’t read, but surely there is a new and diverse crop of overrated writers by now.
Finally, since so much of the discourse about these lists took place on Twitter, how is it that you came to tweet? And why do you tweet from the perspective of Poetry?
I started Tweeting to appropriate the voice of Poetry in the way so many of my peers seem to do. That is to say they speak as if they are Poetry, or as if Poetry is one thing. Poetry isn’t any one thing. It certainly isn’t what I think, or you, for that matter.
It’s no one voice, or perspective or style. Poetry is vast. It’s complicated and unruly and unforgiving and irritating as much as soothing. My Poetry is a bit of a curmudgeon. But I hope not only.
You can check out the lists in their entireties at the National Post’s website, and follow Sina Queyras’s online exploits at lemonhound.blogspot.com/ and twitter.com/lemonhound.
This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 03, published August 31, 2010.