Another literary prize. This time my involvement is not in the receiving, but the giving. One of my volunteer activities in the literary scene is my position as Executive Director of the Acorn-Plantos Award committee, handing out an annual prize for People's Poetry written in the spirit (not necessarily the style) of Milton Acorn, Ted Plantos, Al Purdy, Irving Layton, and so many others we have lost.
The Award attempts to mirror the award given to Milton Acorn by his fellow poets on learning that his seminal work I've Tasted My Blood was disregarded by the Governor-General's Prize jury in favour of two poets whose work they deemed less worthy. One inexpensive medallion, a party at Acorn's favourite haunt, and Milton became "the People's Poet" for life.
After his death in 1986, plans were made to award a medallion in memoriam as well as celebrate with a festival in his honour in his home province, P. E. I. When the Milton Acorn Festival became defunct, the Acorn People's Poetry Award was continued by his friend Ted Plantos in Toronto. The award was given annually to a poet judged by a panel of his/her peers on a work published the previous year, in the "People's Poetry" or populist tradition .
When Ted also died in 2001, the Award seemed doomed to lapse. Several of Ted's (and Milton's) friends approached me to ask if I would take upon myself this responsibility. I considered it for a short while, spoke to some people, and decided I would if I could also honour Ted's name and effort. That was granted. I have administered the prize with help from those interested in "People's Poetry" for five years now.
Judges are not empanneled together but send me their several choices after evaluating the books as poetry in the populist tradition, using common language and imagery to enhance their experience. By evaluating the measure of their support, I formulate a short list; this goes to a final judge who makes the choice. The judges remain anonymous so no controversy arises.
This year's winner is a poet from New Brunswick, Sharon McCartney, based on her book The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The poems give distinctive and characteristic voices to people and things that are part of Wilder's "Little House" books. Any further explanation would not do it justice; you must read the poems. I return to them still.
Imagination and language. What would life be without their magic?