TORONTO – April 7, 2020 – 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 Paula Meehan (Ireland), Kei Miller (Jamaica/UK), and Hoa Nguyen (Canada) each read 572 books of poetry, from 14 countries, including 37 translations.
The two winners, to be announced via our social media channels (web site, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) on Tuesday, May 19, will each be awarded $65,000. The other finalists – 3 International, and 2 Canadian, will be awarded $10,000.
Abigail Chabitnoy earned her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University and was a 2016 Peripheral Poets fellow. Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, LitHub, and Red Ink among others. She is a Koniag descendant and member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska, grew up in Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Colorado. How to Dress a Fish is her debut poetry collection.
“Bringing languagelessness into language, Abigail Chabitnoy’s How to Dress a Fish is an act of remythologizing and personal re-collection, a text of redress to the violence of US colonialism. Like the contronym cleave, like swallowed fish that appear whole, her poems assemble a narrative of displacement and emergence, of that which is half-revived and half-buried, to address instability and unify across divides. With gestures of archival investigation and assemblage, the poems move with undercurrent, sections, elision, and invention into voicings of self, land, story, and mythic place. ‘One face is not enough/ to adapt/ to survive/ to be both predator and prey/ and a shark is after all/ not so different’. How to Dress a Fish speaks of division’s expression and history’s fracturing violence. This is a mending inquiry.”
It was winter.
It was winter. I was sweating. You and I were in a boat, going back to
Unalaska and my body went cold to spite my discomfort. You can be
wind. You can be feathers. You can be fur or fin or teeth. I am not even
earth. Not even bone. But permafrost in a warming state. Cold, not cold
enough. Porous. Full of holes. Not filled but
From How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy
Copyright © 2019 Abigail Kerstetter
Sharon Olds was born in San Francisco and educated at Stanford University and Columbia University. The winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize for her 2012 collection, Stag’s Leap, she is the author of eleven previous books of poetry and the winner of many other honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Dead and the Living. Olds teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and helped found the NYU outreach programs, among them the writing workshop for residents of Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island, and for the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She lives in New York City.
“The aria is a melody for single voice and these poems sing the music of what happens in the everyday with mother, father, lover, child, unknown citizen. Memory is elevated onto some plane of eternity by the pure lyric grace of this work, this witness. And work it is – there is the heft of heavy lifting, of difficult emotional material moving like magma under enormous pressure to issue volcanically, irrupting into the moment of the poem. It is not just that the personal is political, the intimate here is revolutionary. If there is elegy, there is also transformative empathy and an authoritative moral force. Like Dickinson, like Whitman, like Snyder, like Rich, hers is a voice, demotic and mythic, that defines our times.”
I Cannot Say I Did Not
I cannot say I did not ask
to be born. I asked with my mother's beauty,
and her money. I asked with my father's desire
for his orgasms and for my mother's money.
I asked with the cradle my sister had grown out of.
I asked with my mother's longing for a son,
I asked with patriarchy. I asked
with the milk which would well in her breasts, needing to be
drained by a little, living pump.
I asked with my sister's hand-me-downs, lying
folded. I asked with geometry, with
origami, with swimming, with sewing, with
what my mind would thirst to learn.
Before I existed, I asked, with the love of my
children, to exist, and with the love of their children.
Did I ask with my tiny flat lungs
for a long portion of breaths? Did I ask
with the space in the ground, like a portion of breath,
where my body will rest, when it is motionless,
when its elements move back into the earth?
I asked, with everything I did not
have, to be born. And nowhere in any
of it was there meaning, there was only the asking
for being, and then the being, the turn
taken. I want to say that love
is the meaning, but I think that love may be
the means, what we ask with.
From Arias by Sharon Olds
Copyright © 2019 by Sharon Olds
Sarah Riggs is the author of five books of poetry in English: Waterwork (2007), Chain of Miniscule Decisions in the Form of a Feeling (2007), 60 Textos (2010), Autobiography of Envelopes (2012), and Pomme & Granite (2015). She has translated and co-translated six books of contemporary French poetry into English, including most recently Oscarine Bosquet’s Present Participle. Sarah Riggs lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Etel Adnan was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1925. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, U.C. Berkeley, and at Harvard, and taught at Dominican College in San Rafael, California. In 2014 she was awarded one of France’s highest cultural honors: l’Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres and was a winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry, and the California Book Award for Poetry in 2013 for Sea and Fog. Her most recent books are Night (2016) and Surge (2018).
“‘I say that I’m not afraid/of dying because I haven’t/ yet had the experience/ of death’ writes Etel Adnan in the opening poem to Time. What is astonishing here is how she manages to give weariness its own relentless energy. We are pulled quickly through this collection – each poem, only a breath, a small measure of the time that Adnan is counting. Every breath is considered, measured, observant – perceiving even ‘a crack in the/ texture of the day.’ If Adnan is correct and ‘writing comes from a dialogue/ with time’ then this is a conversation the world should be leaning into, listening to a writer who has earned every right to be listened to.”
you are going up,
you take the escalator,
you don't come back
In the tentative
darkness of the
raisins there was
half of the
then the shadow
of the past
Sometimes I get ready for the
voyage of no return,
but dawn raises the curtains,
and my adolescence
is standing at the corner
Under the wonder of
From Time by Sarah Riggs, translated from the French written by Etel Adnan
Copyright © 2019 by Etel Adnan English translation © 2019 by Sarah Riggs
Natalie Scenters-Zapico is a fronteriza from the sister cities of El Paso, Texas, USA, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. Her first collection, The Verging Cities (2015), won the PEN America/Joyce Osterweil Award, GLCA’s New Writers Award, NACCS Foco Book Prize, and Utah Book Award. Lima :: Limón is her second collection. She has won fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, CantoMundo, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Her poems have appeared in a wide range of anthologies and literary magazines, including Best American Poetry 2015, POETRY, Tin House, Kenyon Review, and more. She is currently teaching at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, USA.
“There is a driving, deliberate, righteous indignation to Lima :: Limón, a force that that will unsettle many readers though it is tempered with a mature and forgiving undersong of empathy and love. Natalie Scenters-Zapico is a fronteriza, a frontier dweller, a woman shaped by the contending cultures of Mexico and the USA. Her unflinching gaze is turned on machismo and marianismo, and the quotidian reality of community in crisis, in an elegant poetry that speaks through masks both sacred and profane. The shadow of femicide is never far, but the poet finds a redemptive magic in the voices of the mutilated, in the traditions of ancestors, in the salvific powers of language, in poems pushed to the very edge of what can be said.”
Life is short & I tell this to mis hijas.
Life is short & I show them how to talk
to police without opening the door, how
to leave the social security number blank
on the exam, I tell this to mis hijas.
This world tells them I hate you every day
& I don't keep this from mis hijas
because of the bus driver who kicks them out
onto the streetfor fare evasion. Because I love
mis hijas, I keep them from men who'd knock
their heads together just to hear the chime.
Life is short & the world is terrible. I know
no kind strangers in this country who aren't
sisters a desert away & I don't keep this
from mis hijas. It's not my job to sell
them the world, but to keep them safe
in case I get deported. Our first
landlord said with a bucket of bleach
the mold would come right off. He shook
mis hijas, said they had good bones
for hard work. Mi'jas, could we make this place
beautiful? I tried to make this place beautiful.
From Lima :: Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico
Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico
Chantal Gibson is an artist-educator living in Vancouver with ancestral roots in Nova Scotia. Her visual art collection Historical In(ter)ventions, a series of altered history book sculptures, dismantles text to highlight language as a colonial mechanism of oppression. How She Read is another altered book, a genre-blurring extension of her artistic practice. Sculpting black text against a white page, her poems forge new spaces that challenge historic representations of Black womanhood and Otherness in the Canadian cultural imagination. How She Read is Gibson’s debut book of poetry. An award-winning teacher, she teaches writing and visual communication in the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University.
“Chantal Gibson invites scrutiny of where language maps, or fails to map, the quiddity of the world. Here the English language carries and transmits the burden of its service to the imperial ‘adventure’, in schoolbooks, in literature, in historical artifacts and through image and portraiture in paint and photograph. Her interanimation of the visual and the verbal energises a private mark-making, a resistance poetry to the coded, at times subliminal, oppressions of history. To detox the soul then, to be free and creative as citizens, we deserve to read each mark with schooled attention. And trust in our own mark making, our right to speak it the way we see it. This is a fabulous primer, ludic and ferocious, in the grand tradition of liberation handbooks.”
We knead our
fingers in a little egg and water to hold it together.
We need our hands to touch and turn this mixing
bowl into a talisman. Jus skin n bones, girl, you wink
an elbow into my ribs, pray there's time to make
a woman of me, but you just scratch the surface of
my adolescence. If I'd stop biting my nails, stand up
straight, we wouldn't have to fight tooth n nail to get
along. You play "Stuck on You" for the umpteenth time,
snap your fingers on the downbeat. I count (5, 6, 7,
and 8) every scratch on the vinyl, mutter something
foolish like, Wish you'd keep your hands off my stuff,
til your backhand reminds me I am your stuff, always
under your skin, eyes rolling, all sass n backtalk, til
you're itchin to skin me alive.
From How She Read by Chantal Gibson
Copyright © Chantal Gibson 2019
Doyali Islam’s poems have been published in Kenyon Review Online, The Fiddlehead, and The Best Canadian Poetry in English, and have won several national contests and prizes. Doyali is the former poetry editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, and has been a National Magazine Awards finalist for poetry, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in Toronto, Ontario. heft is her second collection of poetry.
“Laid out against the horizontal landscape of the page, from the very beginning these poems demand from the reader a reorientation, and set out a goal to teach us how to read differently – not only the poems but also the world. What is beautiful and successful here is the way Doyali Islam takes small moments and gives to them an incredible, sometimes aching, heft: the ephemera left in a pocket become a map leading us back to love; an ant observed on the floor finds its way onto a white page – a black mark effectively writing its own poem, ‘struggling to interpret its situation’. In each of these poems, Islam makes that struggle for interpretation both wonderful and worthwhile.”
from visit to a thrift shop
i can't remember which london corner
but i remember the brown corduroy
making something of my legs as she searched.
not purses, but knits. ...outside, winter streets
holding shuffling figures close for passing warmth.
in a mirror a face not quite hers sees
her, searching too. when will you return?
From heft by Doyali Islam
Copyright © 2019 by Doyali Islam
Kaie Kellough is a novelist, poet, and sound performer. He was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, raised in Calgary, Alberta, and in 1998 moved to Montreal, Quebec where he now lives. He is the author of the novels Dominoes at the Crossroads, and Accordéon, which was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, two books of poetry, Lettricity and Maple Leaf Rag, and two albums, Vox:Versus and Creole Continuum. He has performed and published internationally.
View the full Kaie Kellough page.
“Speaking to Caribbean and hemispheric migrations, the poems in Magnetic Equator recall trouble, hybridity, steep falls, continuance, and elaboration. Taking on influence, place, and racialized diasporic experience as it draws language into geographic drifts and historic collisions, these are voicings that cascade and collect ‘an accent adrift in its second language / over a b-side version of empire’. Singing of exile and scattering, the text negotiates survival and revolt as it moves with the surety and complexity of improvisation and collaboration. Sonic, visual, and intertextual, Kaie Kellough traces source and accumulation: ‘our crossings of past, we depart / opposite, along the sentence that encircles the world’.”
turning back, is this a beginning? is it preferable to be erased, to have a
voice that does not know the chorus because it sounds outside the tradition,
because it is stolen by the chinook, or to have a dream of sweating in the
malarial mud swarmed by morpho peleides, sapphire butterflies, each one the
spirit of an ancestor is it better to own a new bungalow in a
new development, or to live where your name was born, where your memory
has tongue is this the reckoning: being between, turning between a
newness of mr. clean and president's choice, and choke-and-rob in the bloody
dusk, between a full tank of gas and love in a time of bauxite strikes i have
to reckon with this far reach, this far flung, this beyond beyond the
perimeter, wandering latitudes of longing and ache, where there exists no
critical authentic, no mas, nothing but blown fragments, and a polaroid
frozen at the departure gate, timehri in 1973. i look up from my
aunt's afro. out the sedan's window: mile markers, flashing fenceposts and
barb wire slung between clouds, unconscious in their blind dreaming
From Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough
Copyright © 2019 by Kaie Kellough
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