Home > Contests > Three Questions with Poetry Judge Ken Babstock

The deadline for PRISM’s annual poetry and fiction contests is January 23rd – just over a week away! And so we asked our Poetry judge Ken Babstock a few questions about writing and reading. Here’s what Ken has to say about poetic catastrophe, haters and what’s on his (extensive) reading list.

ken babstockWhat are you reading right now that has inspired you? What poets have been grabbing your attention?

I’ve just finished a slew of prose titles, fiction and non-. Some I read for a column, some for pleasure/interest, but all of them were worth every minute. Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Ben Lerner’s 10:04, Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Elusive Embrace, Pascal’s Pensées, Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty, Christopher Nealon’s The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in The American Century, Adam Phillips’s Missing Out. And in the poetry sphere I’m actually way behind on everything wonderful that happened in 2014. I’m the opposite of au courant? I listen to ‘dad rock’ and read ‘dad poetry.’ Still enjoying the Collected Gottfried Benn (oh, wait, that one was last year!), Mary Ruefle, Averill Curdy, Dana Ward, Peter Gizzi’s new and selected poems, Norman Dubie, Ann Lauterbach, and Baudelaire.

What sort of trends have you noticed – stylistically, thematically – in poetry recently?

Hmm, if you’d asked five years ago I think I’d have had an answer. That answer would by now have been proven way off the mark, or too narrow, or too blunt. Right here in the present moment I feel I’m only ever ‘getting’ a sliver or tangent or tiny lab sample of everything that’s actually happening in contemporary poetry and am, for that reason, very resistant to the notion of tagging and taxonomy. Nonetheless, I’m going to do it anyway. Remember 20 years ago when everything was about ‘praise’ for the world as it is. I have a feeling that urge has maybe gone dormant; we’ve now entered the ‘oh well, it would seem we’ve created a hell on earth; there’s still Taylor Swift!’ phase of accepted catastrophe. A lot of contemporary poems are simultaneously very much of this world while also positing an alternate fabric of reality maybe out of necessity? Question mark?

What are you looking for in a winning poem?

I’m going to try to go into the pile of poems consciously not looking for anything in particular. I’ll let the outliers announce themselves to me. This passive stance is a way of avoiding responsibility while also effectively mocking the haters out there.

Ken Babstock is the author of Airstream Land Yacht, which was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, won the Trillium Book Award, and was a Globe and Mail Top 100 book; Days into Flatspin, which was shortlisted for the Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland Writing; Mean, which won the Atlantic Poetry Prize and the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award, and Methodist Hatchet, which won the 2012 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize. Ken’s latest collection, On Malice, was named a Globe & Mail Best Book of 2014. Ken Babstock lives in Toronto, Ontario.

PRISM international‘s Fiction and Poetry contests close January 23rd 2015. For more details on how to enter our literary contests, see our contests page.

Entry fee: $35 Canadian entries; $40 US entries; $45 Int’l entries (up to three poems or one story may be submitted with each entry, each entry includes a one-year subscription or extension to PRISM international). Additional entry: $5 each poem or story.

You can enter our contests online through Submittable at http://prisminternational.submittable.com/submit

You can also mail entries or queries to:
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462 – 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1

If you have any questions, please contact promotions@prismmagazine.ca.