The Friggin Speech
Accepting the Friggin Prize
June 5, 2009
by Michael Boughn
I just want to say a few brief but profound words about this extraordinary evening. Receiving the Friggin Truss Prize is certainly an unprecedentedóIíd like to say honour, but Iím not sure thatís the appropriate word. Event, letís say unprecedented event. And to see all of you hereóall 30 of youóis a moment I will remember for a few weeks. We are here tonight because we share something. We are sharing beer and the importance of that should never be underestimatedóbut beyond that, we also evidently share a belief in Literary Excellence (whatever that is). I suppose we should consider thatówhat literary excellence is since we have come out tonight to celebrate it. Although no one wants to admit it when all the prizes are at stake, itís kind of hard to say, because the fact is you just kind of know it when you smell it. We do know what itís not. Itís not Dada poets making fun of people and writing stuff you canít understand and that makes you feel stupid. I think we can reasonably say that it is part of a deep commitment to never do whatís not already been done but do it better than it was done before as long as you donít go too far and get caught out on a limb with your participles dangling in the breeze. Something like that. That I think is literary excellence without any question, having a brand that people can trust to deliver the goods every time. And then, of course, having the judges that bestow the prizes for literary excellence write the excellent introductions to your excellent book before they give you the prizes for your excellenceóthat too is literary excellence above and beyond the normal kind of excellence which is usually just kind of run of the mill.
But beyond this shared commitment to literary excellence, I think we all share something else as well. We share an understanding of role of poetry in contemporary society. We have no illusions about that like those Dada poets do. And not just the Dada poets, but some of the other poets too, that are hard to understand. Now, some of them think poetry is about truth, about honouring the mysterious, confusing complexity of the world rather than making sense of it, or even about standing up to the hypocrisy and self-delusion of a world gone mad with a kind of uncontrollable lust to fill the emptiness in its heart with more and more stuff even if it means killing off vast numbers of people in distant corners of the world in order to guarantee getting that extra dollar day saving because who the hell even knows who those people are and they probably deserve to die anyway because if they arenít terrorists yet they will be terrorists soon and then they will want to come over here and try to take our stuff away from us and/or blow it up.
And then thereís the people who think poetry is about beauty, about creating rather than consuming, about taking ordinary words and weaving them into moments of exquisite and unprecedented experience, about going toe to toe with all the tawdry and degraded moments bequeathed to us by a vast machine hell bent on turning everything we know and love into just another piece of cheap shit for sale in the market place that has spread like cancer into every nook and cranny of our lives laying waste to everything that once had enduring value.
And then, worst of all, there are the people who think poetry is about using your imagination to make things out of words, things that dance and sing and jump around and hoot and holler, things that tickle your fancy and whisper sweet nothings in your ear, things that refuse to be branded or even make sense because sense rhymes with cents and is just another kind of deodorant lined up on the shelves of civilization looking for some poor sucker who thinks that if he buys it, it will make him taller and slimmer and get rid of his wrinkles and embarrassing bodily fluids and make him young forever. These people, of course, are often connected to the aforementioned Dada poets, the curse of literary excellence and an affront to sensible, civilized poetry lovers.
We however, are here because we know better. Poetry is not about truth or beauty or, heaven forbid, making things out of words. Itís about getting the prize. Itís about being on the committee that gives out the prizes so you can make sure your friends and students get the prizes, because if they donít get the prizes, then what the hell does that say about you? Itís about sending out scurrilous, defamatory letters to the press slandering other poets who might otherwise get the prize so you can drive them away and then you can become the Professor of Poetry in Necrophiliac U.
But of all the prizes that are out thereóthe Oxford Professor of Poetic Slander Prize; the Governor Generalís Nepotism Prize; the CBCís Award for Inoffensive Banal Verse; even the richest, most lucrative prize in the world (as we are often told), the macho-bitch-slapping-super-power of prizes, the Griffin Circus Maximus Poetry Prize with its longest of long lists and its shortest of short lists and its most exclusive of guest listsóthereís still one prize none of them can hold a candle to, the best prize of all. And why is it the best Prize of all? I could say itís because of the integrity of its procedures; I could say itís because of its charming modesty; I could even say itís because of the way it cleaves so honourably to the principles of literary excellence. But, of course, thatís all bullshit.
No. There are three short reasons why the Friggin prize is the best Poetry prize of all. Itís because, (and please feel free to join in here) thereís no long list, thereís no short list, thereís no guest listóthereís just the Friggin Prize.