Brand, Heaney shortlisted for Griffin Poetry Prize

It’s rare that poets make headlines or top bestseller lists, but Dionne Brand, who is shortlisted for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize along with Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, has no fear that the art form will die.

TORONTO — It’s rare that poets make headlines or top bestseller lists, but Dionne Brand, who is shortlisted for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize along with Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, has no fear that the art form will die.

The Griffin prize is one of the few big paydays poets can aspire to and organizers call it the world’s richest award for a single work of poetry. One Canadian and one international poet will receive $65,000 each, while all seven of the nominated poets that participate at a public reading also receive $10,000.

Prize founder Scott Griffin said he, too, is heartened by the continued interest in poetry worldwide and in the Canadian contest.

This year’s jury sifted through 450 submissions — up by about 50 from last year — from 37 different countries, and the works included entries translated from more than 20 different languages.

“We’ve always wanted this prize to be an international prize, and not just a Canadian prize, so it’s quite gratifying because I believe now we’re making a mark on the international scene,” Griffin said.

“I think that’s good for Canada, first of all, but it’s also good for international poets to be exposed to Canadians.”

Brand was nominated for “Ossuaries” (McClelland & Stewart), a novel-length narrative told through poetry.

“She has constructed a long poem, which is not a traditional seamless epic, not a Poundian extended collage, but something else that seems quite new,” wrote the judges, Tim Lilburn, Colm Toibin and Chase Twichell.

“The most remarkable part of her achievement is that in fulfilling the novelistic narrative ambition of her work, she has no sacrificed the tight lyrical coil of the poetic line.”

It’s Brand’s second Griffin nomination, having been up for the prize in 2003 for “thirsty,” which won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and was also a finalist for the Trillium Book Award. In 1997, she won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Trillium Book Award for “Land to Light On.” And her last book of poetry, “Inventory,” was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Trillium Book Award and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award in 2006.

The other Canadian nominees are Suzanne Buffam — who teaches at the University of Chicago —for “The Irrationalist” (House of Anansi Press); and “Lookout” (McClelland & Stewart) by John Steffler, who lives in Corner Brook, N.L.

Heaney, from Ireland, made the international Griffin short list for “Human Chain” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which won the 2010 Forward Poetry Prize for best poetry collection last October and the Irish Times Poetry Now Award in January.

The others on the international list are Syrian poet Adonis for “Adonis, Selected Poems,” translated by Khaled Mattawa (Yale University Press); Francois Jacqmin of Belgium for “The Book of the Snow,” translated from French by Philip Mosley (Arc Publications) and American poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg for “Heavenly Questions” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The Griffin prize is important to poets who often toil at their art with meagre incomes, Brand said. And yet there’s something special about the way poetry continues to thrive even without widespread recognition, she added.

“Yes, you could be in a room with 10 people listening to eight poets — poetry hasn’t gone the way of most other — quote unquote — ’products,’ in our society, you can’t put it in a big box store — it’s still very personal, it’s still very intimate and that’s it’s strength, really.”

The prizes will be handed out June 1.