Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Notes from the Front: Griffin Poetry Prize 2013

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Your correspondent, while faithful, is also rather tardy in filing his dispatches from the front. Let’s just say it’s not an accident that I don’t work as a journalist. Here are some belated notes regarding the Griffin Poetry Prize, which was awarded last Thursday to David McFadden and Ghassan Zaqtan (trans. Fady Joudah).

  • Jared Bland wrote an article in the Globe and Mail arguing there shouldn’t be separate Canadian and international prizes. The argument is that “nurturing eventually becomes coddling, and now it’s time to encourage that work to take a bigger stage. When announcing the award, Griffin cited a desire ‘to help promote Canadian poetry beyond our borders.’ What better way to do that than by expecting it to compete with the best the world has to offer?” It is a compelling claim, though it would certainly be a little horrifying to see how bloodied our domestic verse would get after going toe-to-toe with international heavyweights for a few years (/sports metaphor). But why not consider Canadians for the international portion of the award while still offering a separate Canadian category as there is now? The logistics would likely be a nightmare, but you'd get to see how Canadian poetry fares on the international stage while still “nurturing” it. But then, do prizes actually nurture Canadian poetry? Do we have more, or better, poets because the Griffins, GGs et al. hand out cheques every year? Isn’t this what the grant system is for (and don’t we already complain about people contorting their writing on account of grant requirements)?
  • I though McFadden and Alan Shapiro would win, so I’m batting .500. As penance for my lateness, I’ll offer predictions for the Trillium Book Awards, which are awarded tomorrow: Matthew Tierney’s Probably Inevitable and Emily Schultz’s The Blondes.
  • Maybe my favourite thing about the Griffin readings is that there is always one less chair on stage than there are people. This means that after each person has concluded their turn at the podium, they have to play a brief but awkward game of musical chairs to find a seat. I find it a really charming (and almost slapstick) portion of the readings that shows that no matter how much you dress poetry up, it’s still going to spill something on its shirt.
  • I need some help clarifying the logistics of the jury process. Scott Griffin claimed there were 509 books submitted, and the judges had about two and a half months to read them. That’s almost 7 books a day for 75 days straight, and I’m assuming deliberations also need to occur during that time. That’s not actually possible, is it? My eyes feel a little melty just thinking about it.
  • After some cajoling by Ian Williams and the audience, Scott Griffin did an impromptu recitation – from memory – of the E.E. Cummings’ poem “it really must be Nice”. It was, in a word, badass.
  • Before announcing McFadden as the winner, juror Mark Doty gave what I though was an impressive introduction that acknowledged how flimsy these awards are (“all literary prizes are guesses,” he noted) and argued that the three-person jury was nonetheless well equipped to make an educated decision on which book merited the prize (“something something I know a good ox when I see one”; I may not have this quote exactly right). Can we vote on widely distributing Doty’s brief speech and making it a standard preamble to any discussion or presentation of book awards from now on?
  • And since we opened with Jared Bland, let’s close with him too. He had a funny little social media run-in with the Griffin Twitter account on Thursday. Is this life imitating art? Snark imitating criticism? Twitter imitating an overstuffed bar at last call? I don’t even know anymore.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Andrew Faulkner

Andrew Faulkner co-curates The Emergency Response Unit, a chapbook press. His first book, Need Machine, was published by Coach House Books in April 2013. He lives in Toronto.

Go to Andrew Faulkner’s Author Page