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Griffin Prize Winners Announced

By Harriet Staff

Dionne Brand is the Canadian winner of the Griffin Prize, while Gjertrud Schnackenberg won the International prize. Both will receive a total of $75,000 for the awards.

An article from Macleans had the following to say on both authors:

Clearly a hometown favorite, Brand, Toronto’s third poet laureate, was greeted with a jubilant response from the 400 guests at the dinner. Fulfilling a promise she had made to herself the previous time she was shortlisted for the Griffin, she pulled out a note and proceeded to thank all the poets who had ever touched her. It was an exhaustive and dazzling pantheon, a constellation of names as diverse as Aime Cesaire, Octavio Paz, Michael Ondaatje, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath. . . plus the Mighty Sparrow and Bob Marley. I felt sorry for any poets in the room who were not mentioned.

Among the four international poets, only Schnackenberg read her own work at Koerner Hall. Sadly the legendary Seamus Heaney was not on hand to read from Human Chain. The other two finalists, François Jacqmin and Adonis, were voiced by their translators, eminent poets in their own right,. Schnackenberg read an intricate “lullabye” addressed to her late husband. Precisely balanced between science and cosmic mystery, it’s an exquisite description of a seashell being formed, but is really about what fragile and oceanic about love and memory. Its narrative power reminds us that poetry’s job is to let us on the secret of how things happen. And as Schnackenberg took us inside the poem’s spiral shell, the tide of her own emotions seemed capable of capsizing her at any moment.

And these are the Judges’ citations for both women:

“What Dionne Brand has done in Ossuaries is amazing. Working with a novel-length narrative about the life of an activist named Yasmine, who lives an underground existence on various continents, she has constructed a long poem, which is not a traditional seamless epic, nor a Poundian extended collage, but something else that seems quite new. The most remarkable part of her achievement is that in fulfilling the novelistic narrative ambition of her work, she has not sacrificed the tight lyrical coil of the poetic line. The story vaults us ahead with its emerging and receding characters, its passions and dramas, which include a violent bank robbery and tense escape, while each line holds us and demands we admire its complex beauties. The sensation of hurtling and, at the same time, being caught is uncanny. Brand’s innovation on Ossuaries calls forth an entirely new sort of reading. The book is a triumph.”

“Throughout her career, Gjertrud Schnackenberg has been widely admired for her elegant, inventive, and musically complex prosody, her emotional decorum, and her timeless frames of reference. Heavenly Questions is a book that has all of these qualities, yet moves far beyond them. Its six long poems tell a story of epic scale, creating a world large enough to contain Classical and Buddhist mythologies, a personal human drama of rare power, and the mathematics of physical existence (among many other things) while making them seem like entirely natural neighbors. This magic comes to us in a great upheaval of brilliant prosodic rule-breaking and reinvention. Describing these poems as blank verse heavily enriched by rhyme does not begin to describe the power of their formal realization. Reading this book is like reading the ocean, its swells and furrows, its secrets fleetingly revealed and then blown away in gusts of foam and spray or folded back into nothing but water. Heavenly Questions demands that we come face to face with matters of mortal importance, and it does so in a wildly original music that is passionate, transporting, and heart-rending.”


Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 by Harriet Staff.