Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anthologies and Collections

Several weeks ago I was honoured to take part in the launch of two anthologies of poetry. With the decrease of small literary magazines, such one-time projects have become more and more important in placing the work of younger and less established poets before the public; they are no longer, as they once were, simply selections of poems that would point a reader to other work by the collected authors.

Most of today's anthologies are collections of new work. New poetry by established authors usually appears in the established and recognized literary journals; more innovative material and "no name" writers can usually only attain publication on electronic websites or in inexpensive paper 'zines. A collection, whether soft cover or in hard and perfect-bound form, therefore carries a certain amount of prestige.

In Canada the shift from one to the other, that is the move from sampled verse from established authors to showcased work from those writers who were up and coming, is best seen in the Storm Warning anthologies that Al Purdy produced for McClelland and Stewart in the 1970s. Their popularity proved to young poets that collections of their work could be as widely disseminated as those usually carried in bookstores and used in classrooms.

That development continued in two directions. Often a writers or poets, connected through membership in a group or organization or having something else in common such as living in a specific area, would produce a collection, themed or not, to showcase their own work. That way, the friends and acquaintances of each would be exposed to the work of a greater number. The other way was to devise a specific theme and invite poets to submit work that seemed to fit the theme.
My participation that weekend was in anthologies with both those characteristics. One was a celebration of twenty-five years of publication of The Saving Banister by the Niagara chapter of the Canadian Authors Association. Established to feature through a contest the best of Niagara regional poets each year, it has now been opened up province wide. The silver anniversary edition was doubled through the inclusion of work from former winners and judges, and included a new poem of mine. The main theme of the annual has not changed.

The second anthology is a very different project. Unlike the one mentioned above, it is a one-time occurrence. The visual artist and poet Frances Ward collected a number of her images of cracked asphalt and invited poets to submit poems about streets/roads/ driving, then selected a number to accompany her art. The result was Road Work Ahead, a coffee table sized anthology and a beautiful publication. I was honoured to have one of my poems included.

So both anthologies were produced for a purpose and not simply as a showcase for the contributors' work. Anthologies or collections such as these, that aspire to be something special, hold the promise of the future of limited press publication.