Announcing the
Griffin Poetry Prize
2019 Shortlist

TORONTO – April 9, 2019 – Scott Griffin, on behalf of the trustees of The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry, is pleased to announce the International and Canadian shortlist for this year’s prize. Judges Ulrikka Gernes (Denmark), Srikanth Reddy (USA), and Kim Maltman (Canada) each read 510 books of poetry, from 32 countries, including 37 translations.

The authors of the seven shortlisted books — 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 5 at 7.30 p.m.

Raymond Antrobus

The Perseverance published by Penned in the Margins

Biography

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney, London, England to an English mother and a Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III, and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Antrobus is a founding member of Chill Pill and the Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as well as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society. He lives in London, England.

View the full Raymond Antrobus page.

Judges Citation

“’The truth is I’m not /a fist fighter,’ writes Raymond Antrobus, ‘I’m all heart, no technique.’ Readers who fall for this streetwise feint may miss out on the subtle technique – from the pantoum and sestina to dramatic monologue and erasure – of The Perseverance. But this literary debut is all heart, too. Heart plus technique. All delivered in a voice that resists over-simple categorization. As a poet of d/Deaf experience, his verse gestures toward a world beyond sound. As a Jamaican/British poet, he deconstructs the racialized empire of signs from within. Perhaps that slash between verses and signs is where the truth is.”

More about Raymond Antrobus

"Heart plus technique. All delivered in a voice that resists over-simple categorization."

from The Perseverance

There is no such thing as too much laughter,
my father says, drinking in THE PERSEVERANCE
until everything disappears -
I'm outside counting minutes,
waiting for the man, my father
to finish his shot and take me home before

it gets dark. We've been here before,
no such thing as too much laughter
unless you're my mother without my father,
working weekends while THE PERSEVERANCE
spits him out for a minute.
He gives me 50p to make me disappear.

From The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus
Copyright © Raymond Antrobus

Daniel Borzutzky

Lake Michigan published by University of Pittsburgh Press

Biography

Daniel Borzutzky is a poet and translator, and the author of The Performance of Becoming Human, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Poetry. His other books include In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy, Memories of My Overdevelopment, and The Book of Interfering Bodies. His translation of Galo Ghigliotto’s Valdivia won the 2017 National Translation Award. Other translations include Raúl Zurita’s The Country of Planks and Song for His Disappeared Love, and Jaime Luis Huenún’s Port Trakl. He lives in Chicago and teaches in the English and Latin American and Latino Studies Departments at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

View the full Daniel Borzutzky page.

Judges Citation

“Daniel Borzutzky’s Lake Michigan is an elegant and chilling masterpiece of dramatic speech in a tradition of activist, political poetry that encompasses works as diverse as Pablo Neruda’s Canto General and Peter Dale Scott’s Coming to Jakarta: A Poem About Terror. One of the theses embodied in its multiplicity of voices might be said to be that state-sponsored (or state-acquiescent) violence creates ghosts – ghosts who, by continued speaking, come to stand in for the people from whose histories they have been created, people who are therefore never truly dead. Technically brilliant in its use of repetition and variation, leavened with touches of embittered, and yet, in the end, resilient, drollness, Lake Michigan is an eloquent, book-length howl, a piece of political theatre staged in a no-man’s land lying somewhere between the surreal and the real.”

More about Daniel Borzutzky

"an eloquent, book-length howl, a piece of political theatre staged in a no-man’s land lying somewhere between the surreal and the real."

from Lake Michigan, Scene 1

The mayor ordered the police superintendent to beat me

The police superintendent ordered an officer to beat me

The officer ordered his dogs to attack me

Then someone beat me with iron paws

The someone kicked me with iron boots

Then someone shot me

Then someone buried me in the sand

Then someone scooped me out of the sand and dumped me somewhere

And I was dead

From Lake Michigan by Daniel Borzutzky
Copyright © 2018, Daniel Borzutzky

Don Mee Choi translated from the Korean written by Kim Hyesoon

Autobiography of Death published by New Directions

Biographies

Don Mee Choi was born in Seoul, Korea, and is the author of Hardly War (2016), and The Morning News is Exciting (2010). She has received the 2011 Whiting Award for Poetry, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and the 2012 Lucien Stryk Translation Prize.

Kim Hyesoon, born in 1955, is one of the most prominent and influential contemporary poets of South Korea. She was the first female poet to receive the prestigious Kim Su-yong and Midang awards, and has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish. Her most recent books include I’m OK, I’m Pig! (2014), and Poor Love Machine (2016).

View the full Don Mee Choi / Kim Hyesoon page.

Judges Citation

“In the grievous wake of the Sewol Ferry incident of 2014, the Korean poet Kim Hyesoon composed a cycle of forty-nine poems – one for each day the dead must await reincarnation – to produce a harrowing work of shock, outrage, and veneration for the children lost to this disaster. Through Don Mee Choi’s extraordinary translations, we hear the clamorous registers of Kim’s art – a transnational collision of shamanism, Modernism, and feminism – yield ‘a low note no one has ever sung before.’ That otherworldly tone may sound like life itself, the poet sings, ‘for even death can’t enter this deep inside me.’”

More about Don Mee Choi and Kim Hyesoon

"Through Don Mee Choi’s extraordinary translations, we hear the clamorous registers of Hyesoon’s art - a transnational collision of shamanism, Modernism, and feminism"

from Underworld - DAY FORTY-FIVE

The dead without faces

run out like patients

when the door of the intensive care unit opens

carrying pouches of heart, pouches of urine

The dead running toward the path to the underworld

turn into stone pillars when they look back and their eyes meet their past

The dead in their sacks look out with eyes brimming with salt water

From Autobiography of Death by Don Mee Choi translated from the Korean by Kim Hyesoon
Copyright © 2016 by Kim Hyesoon
Copyright © 2018 by Don Mee Choi

Ani Gjika translated from the Albanian written by Luljeta Lleshanaku

Negative Space published by Bloodaxe Books

Biographies

Ani Gjika is an Albanian-born poet, literary translator and writer. Her book Bread on Running Waters (2013) was a finalist for the 2011 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, and the 2011 May Sarton New Hampshire Book Prize. Gjika moved to the US when she was 18, earning an MA in English at Simmons College, and an MFA in poetry at Boston University. Her honours include awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, English PEN Translates, Framingham State University’s Miriam Levine Award, and the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize.

Luljeta Lleshanaku was born in Elbasan, Albania. She is the author of seven books of poetry in Albanian. Book length translations of her work into other languages include Antipastoral (Italy, 2006), Kinder der natur (Austria, 2010), Dzieci natury (Poland, 2011), and Lunes en Siete Dias (Spain, 2017). She has won several prestigious awards for her poetry, including PEN Albania 2016, and the International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009. In 2012 she was one of two finalists in Poland for their European Poet of Freedom Prize.

View the full Ani Gjika / Luljeta Lleshanaku page.

Judges Citation

“With a lesser known original language, the more precious the gift of translation! Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Negative Space offers a rare glimpse into contemporary Albanian poetry. Effortlessly and with crisp precision, Ani Gjika, herself a poet, has rendered into English, not only the poems in Negative Space, but also the eerie ambience which resonates throughout the book, the deep sense of impermanence that is one of the many consequences of growing up under severe political oppression. ‘Negative space is always fertile.’ Opening trauma’s door, we’re met by a tender and intelligent voice with stories illuminating existence in a shared humanity, thus restoring dignity. In a world fractured by terror and violence, Lleshanaku’s poetry is infinitely exciting, soothing us, its citizens.”

More about Ani Gjika and Luljeta Lleshanaku

"Opening trauma’s door, we’re met by a tender and intelligent voice with stories illuminating existence in a shared humanity, thus restoring dignity."

from Almost Yesterday

I was twelve.
My sleep deep, my curiosity numbed,
tossed carelessly to the side
like mounds of snow along the road.

But I remember the barn clearly, as if it were yesterday,
almost yesterday.
You cannot easily forget what you watch with one eye closed,
the death of the hero in the film,
or your first eclipse of the sun.

From Negative Space by Ani Gjika translated from the Albanian by Luljeta Lleshanaku
Copyright © Luljeta Lleshanaku 2012, 2015, 2018
Translation © Ani Gjika 2018

Dionne Brand

The Blue Clerk published by McClelland & Stewart

Biography

Dionne Brand was born in Trinidad and is a poet, novelist, non-fiction writer, filmmaker, educator, and activist. She has written 10 previous books of poetry, and is a winner of the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and a past winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize. She was Toronto’s third Poet Laureate from 2009-2012. In 2017 she was named to the Order of Canada. Brand is a Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. She lives in Toronto.

View the full Dionne Brand page.

Judges Citation

“Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk is many things at once: a book-length ars poetica; an act of memory and reconfiguration; an extended meditation (one that moves at times directly, at others by a kind of philosophical osmosis) touching on the realms of history, politics, race and gender; an internal, consciously curated and interrogated dialogue that manages to create a space for all of these. Expansive, beautifully written, structurally compelling, and above all moving, The Blue Clerk is a book to be read (and re-read), not just for the pleasures of its language, but for the breadth of its vision, and the capaciousness of its thinking.”

More about Dionne Brand

"Expansive, beautifully written, structurally compelling, and above all moving"

Verso 40.6

M sent me a photograph by Daguerre. It is of the first human being to be photographed. Someone is cleaning the shoes of someone. All descriptions of the photograph claim that the first human being to be photographed is the figure having his shoes cleaned. I see first the figure cleaning the shoes as the photograph's subject. Secondly, the event of the shoe-cleaning. From this immediately I saw the state of the world.

From The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand
Copyright © 2018 by Dionne Brand

Eve Joseph

Quarrels published by Anvil Press

Biography

Eve Joseph’s two previous books of poetry, The Startled Heart (2004) and The Secret Signature of Things (2010) were both nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Award. Her nonfiction book, In the Slender Margin (2014) won the Hubert Evans award for nonfiction. Joseph grew up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and now lives in Victoria.

View the full Eve Joseph page.

Judges Citation

“In Quarrels, Eve Joseph’s delightful collection of prose poems, you enter the marvelous and that is the truth! The poet has surrendered herself to the realm of the illogical, trusting that it has a logic of its own, and the outcome is, indeed, a new music. These poems are intriguing spaces and moments defeating the boundaries of the real, but rest assured, Joseph leads you by the hand with warmth, wit and empathy.

Perhaps these poems are crystallisations of a deeply human, spiritual knowledge, gathered over decades working in a hospice. Joseph’s previous book, the exceptional memoir, In the Slender Margin, renders this experience. Certainly, without gravity, poems wouldn’t be able to sing. As distillations of life, these poems, with beauty and charm, hold their own credibility: an omnipresent, merely-in-glimpses-tangible marvelousness, miraculously fastened to the pages of a single slender volume that will fit into most pockets and assure magnificent company on any given journey.”

More about Eve Joseph

"The poet has surrendered herself to the realm of the illogical, trusting that it has a logic of its own, and the outcome is, indeed, a new music."

We met at a birthday party.

We met at a birthday party. You were the only rum drinker in the room. On the couch, Al Purdy was going on about the stunted trees in the Arctic. Upon closer examination, we could see that the leaves were tiny parkas. The illogical must have a logic of its own you said. The first two drinks don't count, it's the third that blows the door open. With every gust of wind the little coats raised their arms and waved shyly at us. You were a new music, something I had not heard before. As they used to say about that Estonian composer: he only had to shake his sleeves and the notes would fall out.

From Quarrels by Eve Joseph
Copyright © 2018 by Eve Joseph

Sarah Tolmie

The Art of Dying published by McGill-Queen's University Press

Biography

Sarah Tolmie is an associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo. Her poetry collection, Trio, was shortlisted for the 2016 Pat Lowther Award. She is a medievalist trained at the University of Toronto and University of Cambridge.

View the full Sarah Tolmie page.

Judges Citation

“A modern danse macabre in eighty-nine parts, Sarah Tolmie’s The Art of Dying conceals a multifaceted meditation on mortality beneath its deceptively simple lyric surface. An irreverent feminist in the tradition of Dorothy Parker and Stevie Smith, Tolmie leverages the subversive possibilities of doggerel to upend our assumptions about everything from abortion to the Anthropocene. Wickedly funny, this is work of great intimacy, too, introducing us to a mother, concerned citizen, social media addict, bookworm, and bon vivant who wants nothing more than to remain ‘Here on the quiet earth that I still love, / Where the last humans are.’”

More about Sarah Tolmie

"Wickedly funny, this is work of great intimacy, too, introducing us to a mother, concerned citizen, social media addict, bookworm, and bon vivant ..."

from 74

At second look, he saw it through

Lost eyes, and it was dearer far
Than it had been before. A borrowed
Death does that for you. Your own cannot.
We each will miss the lesson that

We've taught. Compassion is what we learn
From those who die and don't return.
Grief gives us that hitch in the eye,
Catching on things as they pass by.

From The Art of Dying by Sarah Tolmie
Copyright © Sarah Tolmie 2018

Readings and Anthology

Tickets for the Shortlist Readings to be held on Wednesday, June 5, at Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory in the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto are available at https://www.rcmusic.com/events-and-performances/griffin-poetry-prize-readings, or by calling (416) 408-0208.

2019-anthologyEach year, The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry presents an anthology of poems selected from the shortlisted books, published by House of Anansi Press. The 2019 Anthology can be purchased at https://houseofanansi.com/products/the-2019-griffin-poetry-prize-anthology.

Note to booksellers: Griffin Poetry Prize book stickers are supplied free of charge by The Griffin Trust. Contact info@griffinpoetryprize.com to place an order. Winner book stickers will be available after June 6.

Shortlisted Publishers

Anvil Press:
anvilpress.com

Bloodaxe Books:
bloodaxebooks.com

McGill-Queen’s University Press:
mqup.ca

McClelland & Stewart:
penguinrandomhouse.ca/imprints/mcclelland-stewart

New Directions:
ndbooks.com

Penned in the Margins:
pennedinthemargins.co.uk

University of Pittsburgh Press:
upress.pitt.edu

More Information

Please direct other inquiries as follows:

Media Inquiries:
Melissa Shirley
Telephone: (647) 389-9510
publicity@griffinpoetryprize.com

General Inquiries:
Ruth Smith, Executive Director
Telephone: (905) 618-0420
info@griffinpoetryprize.com

Shortlist summary, poet bios and citations

Download press release, poet bios and citations

Download photos

Purchase 2019 Griffin Prize Anthology and shortlist books online