Citation for Ken Babstock’s “Methodist Hatchet”

Heather McHugh

Babstock is the live wire in the gene pool: stirring things up, rocking boats, disjoining easier conjunctions, jolting the culture’s DNA. From sea-and-skyscapes literally lettered, from the suspect core of our ‘décors? (‘lost heart’ informs that fashion’s stock and trade), he winds past mere mundanities to find the world again, with words for his divining wands. ‘Money’s the more virtual virtual,’ Babstock writes. ‘I don’t talk this way in Real Life.’ Cable-stitched by shopping channels, across northernmost America and more, desire is wired: With HGTV’s IV, or the PC’s ICU, we feed our merchandizing minds. ‘We bought this stuff,’ he says. Disclosure’s what he’s after, as wary of the cosy center as of the so-called cutting-edge. But get a load of those poetic closures: master craft in ‘Wikileaks and sea smoke’ weaving worlds of words together. Man of letters, he remarks the X’s on workmen’s safety vests; the V’s descending out of Gander, headed for the kind of down discounted in an Army-Navy store. A shapely mind will note the uppers, too; they’re cut with aspirin and talc. This guy is one ferocious logophile. A signature device, the ‘disconnected current gauge,’ trips all the switches: current cut off into currency – but also presents. It was ‘a gift,’ writes Babstock, with ‘its needle stilled between / ‘Reverse clips’ and ‘Start charge.’ Consult it / and it shivers on a hash mark.’ Thus, in a flash, the disused item (mere décor) becomes occasion for a gift: the wordsmith talent, not the dollar sign, with other hashes hinted, other hushes marked. The old and new worlds hackable in just one comprehensive stun, this shock of shiver to be had. Methodist Hatchet lets us have it. Thus do local gifts turn into global ones.

Notes on the Poem

When we consider each Poem of the Week, we regularly take as our cue the observations of our judges as they include the collection from which a poem came in that year's Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. The judges capture those observations beautifully in the citations that accompany each shortlist announcement. Here are some of the thoughtful and well-crafted tributes to poetry collections that have been shortlisted for and won the Griffin Poetry Prize:
  • Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson Griffin Poetry Prize 2001 - Canadian Winner (Judges: Carolyn Forche, Dennis Lee, Paul Muldoon)
  • Born to Slow Horses by Kamau Brathwaite Griffin Poetry Prize 2006 - International Winner (Judges: Lavinia Greenlaw, Lisa Robertson, Eliot Weinberger)
  • Ocean by Sue Goyette Griffin Poetry Prize 2014 - Canadian Shortlist (Judges: Robert Bringhurst, Jo Shapcott, CD Wright)
  • Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo Griffin Poetry Prize 2016 - International Shortlist (Judges: Alice Oswald, Tracy K Smith, Adam Sol)
One of the most striking citations concocted for a Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted work is Heather McHugh's jauntily rhapsodic commendation for 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize Canadian winner Methodist Hatchet by Ken Babstock. (McHugh teamed up with David O'Meara and Fiona Sampson to judge the 2012 poetry contenders.) The citation riffs on Babstock's words, phrases, themes and rhythms with such infectious verve that it's loosely a glosa, certainly a poem unto itself. McHugh's accolades are warmly colloquial ... "But get a load of those poetic closures" and "This guy is one ferocious logophile" ... and clearly Babstock's crackling work has inspired the judge's own potent zingers, including: "Cable-stitched by shopping channels, across northernmost America and more, desire is wired: With HGTV’s IV, or the PC’s ICU, we feed our merchandizing minds." Electrified by the citation, we can't wait to devour the subject of such singular praise.

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