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Shortlist Announced for the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize

Thursday, Apr 12, 2012 at 4:34pm

Scott Griffin, founder of The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry and David Young, trustee, announced the International and Canadian shortlist for this year's prize. Judges Heather McHugh (USA), David O'Meara (Canada) and Fiona Sampson (England) each read 481 books of poetry, from 37 countries, including 19 translations.

The seven finalists - four International and three Canadian - will be invited to read in Toronto at Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory in the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto on Wednesday, June 6th. The seven finalists will each be awarded $10,000 for their participation in the Shortlist Readings.

The winners, announced at the Griffin Poetry Prize Awards evening on Thursday, June 7th, will each be awarded $65,000.

International Shortlist

Night by David Harsent, Faber and Faber

The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

November by Sean O'Brien, Picador

Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Rozewicz by Joanna Trzeciak, translated from the Polish written by Tadeusz Rozewicz, W.W. Norton & Company

Canadian Shortlist

Methodist Hatchet by Ken Babstock, House of Anansi Press

Killdeer by Phil Hall, BookThug

Forge by Jan Zwicky, Gaspereau Press

Categories: Awards, Poetry

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The Chameleon Couch

- by Yusef Komunyakaa

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A Boston Globe Best Poetry Book of 2011 | Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry

An intimate collection from one of America's most important poets

The latest collection from one of our preeminent poets, The Chameleon Couch is also one of Yusef Komunyakaa's most personal to date. As in his breakthrough work, Copacetic, Komunyakaa writes again of music as muse--from a blues club in the East Village to the shakuhachi of Basho. Beginning with "Canticle," this varied new collection often returns to the idea of poem as hymn, ethereal and haunting, as Komunyakaa reveals glimpses of memory, myth, and violence. With contemplations that spring up along walks or memories conjured by the rhythms of New York, Komunyakaa pays tribute more than ever before to those who came before him.

The book moves seamlessly across cultural and historical boundaries, evoking Komunyakaa's capacity for cultural excavation, through artifact and place. The Chameleon Couch begins in and never fully leaves the present--an urban modernity framed, brilliantly, in pastoral-minded verse. The poems seek the cracks beneath the landscape, whether New York or Ghana or Poland, finding in each elements of wisdom or unexpected beauty. The collection is sensually, beautifully relaxed in rhetoric; in poems like "Cape Coast Castle," Komunyakaa reminds us of his gift for combining the personal with the universal, one moment addressing a lover, the next moving the focus outward, until both poet and reader are implicated in the book's startling world.


- by Sean O'brien - Picador Poetry (series)

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A brilliant new collection from the T.S. Eliot and Forward Prize winning poet November is Sean O'Brien's first collection since his widely celebrated The Drowned Book, the only book of poetry to have won both the Forward and T. S. Eliot prizes. November is haunted by the missing, the missed, the vanished, the uncounted, and the uncountable lost: lost sleep, connections, muses, books, the ghosts and gardens of childhood. Ultimately, these lead the poet to contemplate the most troubling absences: O'Brien's elegies for his parents and friends form the heart of this book, and are the source of its pervasive note of départ. Elsewhere - as if a French window stood open to an English room - the islands, canals, railway stations and undergrounds of O'Brien's landscape are swept by a strikingly Gallic air. This new note lends O'Brien's recent poems a reinvigorated sense of the imaginative possible: November shows O'Brien at the height of his powers, with his intellect and imagination as gratifyingly restless as ever.

Methodist Hatchet

- by Ken Babstock

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Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize and shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award Marooned in the shiftless, unnamed space between a map of the world and a world of false maps, the poems in Methodist Hatchet cling to what's necessary from each, while attempting to sing their own bewilderment. Carolinian forest echoes back as construction cranes in an urban skyline. Second Life returns as wildlife, as childhood. Even the poem itself -- the idea of a poem -- as a unit of understanding is shadowed by a great unknowing. Fearless in its language, its trajectories and frames of reference, Methodist Hatchet gazes upon the objects of its attention until they rattle and exude their auras of strangeness. It is this strangeness, this mysterious stillness, that is the big heart of Ken Babstock's playful, fierce, intelligent book.


- by Phil Hall - Department of Critical Thought (series)

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These are poems of critical thought that have been influenced by old fiddle tunes. These are essays that are not out to persuade so much as ruminate, invite, accrue.

Hall is a surruralist (rural & surreal), and a terroir-ist (township-specific regionalist). He offers memories of, and homages to -- Margaret Laurence, Bronwen Wallace, Libby Scheier, and Daniel Jones, among others. He writes of the embarrassing process of becoming a poet, and of his push-pull relationship with the whole concept of home. His notorious 2004 chapbook essay The Bad Sequence is also included here, for a wider readership, at last. It has been revised. (It's teeth have been sharpened.)

In this book, the line is the unit of composition; the reading is wide; the perspective personal: each take a give, and logic a drawback.

Language is not a smart-aleck; it's a sacred tinkerer.
Readers are invited to watch awe become a we.

In Fred Wah's phrase, what is offered here is "the music at the heart of thinking."


- by Jan Zwicky

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This new collection from Jan Zwicky is a set of variations that employs a restricted, echoic vocabulary to explore themes of spiritual catastrophe, transformation and erotic love. Zwicky is a philosopher, musician and award-winning poet who lives on Quadra Island, British Columbia. Her most recent collection of poetry is Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. Her critically acclaimed books of philosophy, Lyric Philosophy and Wisdom & Metaphor, have recently been reissued in hardcover by Gaspereau Press.Finalist for the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize.