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UNDERDOG POET LOSES HIS SHIRT . . . TO DOUGLAS COUPLAND


June 30, 2004

VANCOUVER – The initially tame Canadian Authors Association (CAA) Awards Banquet last Sunday turned into a rambunctious and free-spending auction, prompted by the winner of a category rarely associated with either high fashion or high rolling—poetry.
CAA Novel of the Year recipient Douglas Coupland took to the stage early in the day to summarize the award-winning and read from his forthcoming work (both from Random House Canada). But Coupland couldn’t take his eyes off the dress shirt casually worn by the previous reader, CAA Poetry winner Chris Banks.
“Twenty years ago I saw a shirt that made me realize, ‘My life would be perfect if I owned this shirt,’” said Coupland, eyeballing the young poet’s crisp plaid dress shirt, “Ever since, I’ve been searching for it all over the world. Ladies and gentleman, Chris Banks is wearing that shirt.”
The Waterloo-based poet Banks, who had never won an award before nor worn a pricey shirt, had just splurged on a new wardrobe for the awards and was very reluctant to heed short-fiction winner Stuart McLean’s urgings to ceremoniously present the shirt to Coupland “in a show of solidarity.” The situation was more than a little overwhelming for Banks, whose underdog debut Bonfires (Nightwood Editions) had beaten out high-profile entries from the likes of Dennis Lee, Di Brandt, Tim Bowling, Anne Simpson and Tim Lilburn to earn both the Jack Chalmers Poetry Award and a spot on the podium alongside Coupland and McLean.
Later during the banquet, in a spate of backroom dealing highly appropriate to the eve of a national election, a steady stream of CAA members lobbied Banks to auction off his prized possession. He was finally persuaded by a suggestion that half the money be donated to the Writers Foundation—a CAA program that aids senior writers with little or no income—as well as an astounding opening bid of $600. After a good-spirited modelling show by Banks and a long and hard-fought bidding war between Coupland, McLean and the CAA’s Ontario wing, the victorious Douglas Coupland donned the prized shirt like a cape as he accepted his CAA award, then rushed out of the hall to catch a flight.
While Banks remains disappointed to part with a shirt purported to make a man’s life complete, he is happy to have raised more money from its highly pressured sale than he likely will from the royalties of his first book of poetry: a whopping $900!