Past Griffin Award recipient Christian Bök once stated, “The Griffin is the poetry award that can drastically change a poet’s life.” Christian isn’t exaggerating: the $100,000 prize, shared by two winners, is one of the largest poetry awards in the world. In a 2000 speech, Scott Griffin, founder of The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, explained, “the poetry prize had to be of sufficient size to make a statement that declared that poets and poetry are just as important as novelists and their works.”
You might be asking, “Why are these people giving away perfectly fine money for … um … poetry?”
Scott Griffin used to receive such questions—often. During a speech that introduced the award to the public, he called them indications of “just how far poetry has slipped from the mainstream of our cultural lives.” Seven years later, he is optimistic that poetry’s profile is rising, and believes that a new readership will eventually evolve.
Yesterday morning at Le Select Bistro, Scott Griffin and David Young announced the Canadian and International shortlist for the 2007 Griffin awards. Two $50,000 prizes are awarded annually for the best books of Canadian and International English-language poetry from the previous year.
Here’s how it works: Trustees Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, David Young, and Robert Hass (former US Poet Laureate) annually select a panel of three judges. This year, judges John Burnside, Charles Simic, and Karen Solie read a record number of titles: 483 books, including 18 translations, from 15 different countries. Seven books were nominated.
Airstream Land Yacht, Ken Babstock (House of Anansi Press)
Strike/Slip, Don McKay (McClelland & Stewart)
Ontological Necessities, Priscila Uppal (Exile Editions)
Tramp in Flames, Paul Farley (Picador)
Salvation Blues, Rodney Jones (Houghton Mifflin)
Ooga-Booga, Frederick Seidel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Scar Tissue, Charles Wright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The goodwill towards poetry at the ceremonial breakfast was sweet and sunny like Le Select’s freshly squeezed orange juice. Perhaps it was palpable enough to be sensed by poets everywhere; even the most charmingly cantankerous of the art might have cracked a few extra smiles yesterday. Scott Griffin once said, “poetry speaks to the soul of a nation and its people,” and we think he means every word.
The finalists, including hometown poets Priscila Uppal and Ken Babstock, are invited to read at the MacMillan Theatre on June 5. The venue’s 850 seats sold out quickly last year; if you plan to attend, you might want to purchase tickets early. The winners will be announced June 6 at the seventh annual Griffin Poetry Prize Awards Evening.
Photos of Scott Griffin and David Young by Poetography.ca.