Prize Founder Scott Griffin on the dance floor with trustee Margaret Atwood. Photo by Aline Sandler.
It turns out that if you want to be a successful poet and $50,000 richer, you better consider going by your initials. The ninth annual Griffin Poetry Prize winners were announced last night at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District, with A.F. Moritz winning the Canadian award for his book of poetry The Sentinal and American poet C.D. Wright winning the International prize for her book, Rising, Falling, Hovering.
The prize is serious business, being the world’s largest prize for a first-edition single collection of poetry written in English. The winners were picked, and announced, by a panel of three: Giller Prize–nominated novelist Michael Redhill, Irish poet Dennis O’Driscoll, and American poet Saskia Hamilton, who all read a bit fewer than 500 books of poetry from thirty different countries. In the audience were the award’s trustees, including Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, both of whom were absent at April’s announcement of nominees.
Canadian Winner A.F. Moritz, Prize Founder Scott Griffin, and International Winner C.D. Wright. Photo by Tom Sandler
Poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger followed right after with a reading of his poetry. Enzensberger was awarded the Lifetime Recognition Award at Tuesday’s sold-out reading by the shortlisted authors at the MacMillan Theatre. Garnering the first of four standing ovations of the night, Enzensberger delighted in the idea that his poems were popular all over the world by recounting a time he was on Lake Titicaca and met a “chap” who had his books.
Literary critic James Wood was the keynote speaker of the evening and elicited even more laughter from the crowd, reading a poem he wrote about Toronto that ended with the line: “home of Michael Ondaatje and lately Michael Ignatieff.” A former Cambridge scholar, Woods mocked the Oxford Professorship of Poetry, which had been recently plagued by scandal. He jokingly announced his candidacy for the professorship, claiming his qualification was based on his being “thinner than Susan Boyle, also rumoured to be interested.” Turning serious, he emphasized the importance of poetic criticism because, he said, poetry “waves a flower in face of a highly utilitarian age.”
Photo by Tom Sandler
In September, the Griffin Trust will take the two winners of the prize to Reykjavik, Iceland, to read at the International Literary Festival. Moritz thanked his publisher, House of Anansi Press, which was the subject of some controversy earlier this year after the nominees were announced. (The publishing house garnered two of the three spots on the Canadian shortlist and is owned by Scott Griffin of, yes, the Griffin Prize.) Both winners delivered short speeches, but Moritz proposed to the audience, “Let’s all get together and do it next week. This time you read your poems to me.”
All photos courtesy of the Griffin Prize.