The Griffin Poetry Prize awards $130,000 for a book of poetry
Scott Griffin believes Canadian poetry can stand on its own, rivaling the best poetry in the world. And he invests his money where his belief is to create a grand prize for a single book of poetry, with international and Canadian poets competing for a prize of $130,000, making it the richest prize in the world.
« It was time for a change, » Griffin told The Star in an interview before the changes were announced Thursday morning.
The Griffin Poetry Prize has existed more or less in its current form for 22 years, with two prizes awarded for poetry written or translated into English, one international winner and one Canadian winner each taking home $65,000.
The optics of having a separate prize for Canadians was not good, Griffin said, because « it was seen that Canadians couldn’t compete with international poets, which never really was the case. » . He cited Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson and Robert Bringhurst as evidence, among others.
There was nothing stopping the judges from awarding the international and Canadian prizes to a Canadian poet, but Griffin said « the judges were never going to go there. »
The directors who, apart from Griffin, currently include Ian Williams and Karen Solie, have all felt the need to move the price. « There’s been a lot of debate among directors trying to get it right, » Griffin said. The format they have now chosen “raises the bar for Canadians, but I believe they can compete and live up to that higher goal.
June was still Griffin Month. For the past 22 years, barring a pandemic, finalists would be flown to Toronto and celebrated for two nights: an evening of readings at Koerner Hall; the following a gala where the winner would be announced in front of a crowd of guests.
This gala was affectionately nicknamed the « Poetry Prom » by actors in the literary world. Filled with readings and dinner, and later a DJ playing music, it was a night where you could see famous poets going wild on the dance floor.
The party was « undemocratic », Griffin said, because « we would only have 300 people, whereas at Koerner Hall (the night before) we would have over a thousand people and they wouldn’t know who the people were. winners ».
The ‘Poetry Prom’ gala was also an opportunity for the high school’s Poetry in Voice award winner to mesmerize the audience with an always passionate reading of a favorite piece of poetry. The competition spans the country each year, with the winner accompanied by their family.
Now there will be a big night of readings – with everyone on the same stage, experienced and newbies – and awards, with a reception afterwards at Koerner Hall.
Finalists will still be airlifted. But where there used to be two shortlists – four international and three Canadian finalists – there will now be a longlist of 10 books announced in March 2023 and, in April, a shortlist of five books. will come out. The winners will be announced on June 7, 2023.
There will also be a new $10,000 prize, awarded for a first book of poetry by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, as well as a six-week residency in Italy in partnership with the Civitella Ranieri Foundation.
The Lifetime Recognition Award, which comes with a $25,000 prize, will also continue to be presented. Of the 14 such awards given out to date, two were Canadian: Robin Blaser and Nicole Brossard — worthy, according to Griffin, of international recognition. Previous international winners include Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney in 2012, Derek Walcott in 2015 and Ko Un in 2008, among others.
Griffin said that when he created the award, “Canadian poets were relatively unknown on the international stage…so we thought we should have an award that would raise the profile of uniquely Canadian poets. »
The award began in 2000 with a prize of $40,000 to the winner (plus the $10,000 they received for making the short list), which grew to $65,000 – plus $10,000 for each poet in the short list – in 2010, the year Canadian poet Karen Solie won.
Another tradition to uphold is that if the winning book is in translation, the prize will be shared, with the translator receiving 60% of the prize and the poet 40%. « It’s almost impossible to translate poetry, it’s more of a kind of recreation, » Griffin explained.
Now, with the changes, Griffin sees a continuity that reflects the life of a poet: from Poetry in Voice winner to emerging Canadian poet to Griffin Prize and Lifetime Achievement Award, there is a marked career trajectory in the price.
But at the end of the day, he said, it’s really about raising the profile of poetry — which, after all, crosses all barriers and borders — and recognizing its importance.
“At a time when censorship and attacks on a wide range of writers are on the rise in many countries, including the United States, it is heartening to see such a vote of confidence in poets coming from Canada” , Atwood, who was a founding director of the award, said in a statement. “Poetry is not a minor art form; it is the crucible of human language.
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