Controversy erupted Saturday at the annual general meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) when members were urged to seek the attention of book clubs and reading groups with a bad poem. The motion that sparked a spirited debate was the second of two involving Canada’s Public Lending Right Program (PLR), which reimburses authors for the presence of their books in libraries.
The first PLR motion, decidedly serious in tone, noted that digitization is revolutionizing the world of books, and urged the federal government “to demonstrate its commitment to Canadian culture by providing funds to enable the PLR Program to include eBooks.” The PLR Commission, which is co-sponsoring a study of eBooks and libraries, was a main focus of the four-day gathering.
The second motion, noting that the PLR Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary, called on TWUC to urge book clubs and reading groups to open each meeting with a solemn reading of the following poem:
Happy Birthday, PLR!
We borrow books and, yes, you are
The way we show appreciation
To the authors of our Nation.
The nay-sayers argued that the poem is so awful that TWUC could not endorse it. But David Waltner-Toews – who presented the motion while disavowing authorship of the poem – argued that the badness of the poem was necessary: “If it was a serious poem,” he said, “there would be no joke. These people have no sense of humour!”
The nay-sayers carried the day by four votes – the narrowest margin of the afternoon. One GG-award-winning novelist hollered for a recount, and a nonfiction prize-winner muttered darkly about revisiting the matter next year. The author of the poem has yet to admit he wrote it. But he does believe strongly that book clubs and reading groups should solemnly intone the poem when they gather, even without official endorsement.