Debths by Susan Howe and This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt Win the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize

TORONTO – Thursday, June 7, 2018 – Debths by Susan Howe and This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt are the International and Canadian winners of the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize. They each received C$65,000 in prize money.

The Griffin Poetry Prize was founded in 2000 to serve and encourage excellence in poetry. The prize is for first edition books of poetry written in, or translated into, English and submitted from anywhere in the world.

International Winner: Susan Howe for Debths

Published by New Directions


Author of more than a dozen books of poetry and two of literary criticism, Susan Howe’s recent collection of poems That This won the Bollingen Prize in 2011. Howe held the Samuel P. Capen Chair in Poetry and the Humanities at the State University New York at Buffalo until her retirement in 2007. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 and served as a Chancellor to the Academy of American Poets between 2000-2006. In 2009 she was awarded a Fellowship to the American Academy at Berlin. Recently, she was an Artist In Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Howe has also released three CDs in collaboration with the musician/composer David Grubbs, Thiefth, Souls of the Labadie Tract, and Frolic Architecture. In 2013 her word collages were exhibited at the Yale Union in Portland, Oregon, and in the Whitney Biennial Spring, 2014. Most recently, a limited press edition of Tom Tit Tot (word collages which amount to a series poem) with artwork by R. H. Quaytman has been published by MoMA in New York, and Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives by Christine Burgin and New Directions.

Judges’ Citation

“In a lecture of 2014, Susan Howe quoted Robert Duncan on how poetry’s secret lies in the “keeping of time”: “Counting the measures … one image may recall another, finding depth in the resounding.” It’s an apt description of Howe’s own method in her extraordinary new book, Debths, which continues to plumb the intertextual depths (also at once debts and deaths) of the archives and collections that have fed her work for almost thirty years. Across the book’s four sections, we hear its poems resound in sympathy not only with their reinvented source materials, but with earlier moments in Howe’s career – one of the most significant, innovative and humane in recent American letters – whose varied threads this new work draws triumphantly together. As Howe writes in her evocative foreword, “Secret connections among artifacts are audible and visible and yet hidden until you take a leap … It’s the mystery of strong music in the soul.” The strong music of Debths reveals itself in poems to be returned to again and again with growing astonishment and gratitude.”

More about Susan Howe

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International Winner: Billy-Ray Belcourt for This Wound is a World

Published by Frontenac House


Billy-Ray Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is a Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta, and a 2016 Rhodes Scholar who holds a M.St. in Women’s Studies from the University of Oxford. In 2016, he was named one of six Indigenous writers to watch by CBC Books, and was the winner of the 2016 P.K. Page Founder’s Award for Poetry. His work has been published in Assaraus: A Journal of Gay Poetry, Decolonization, Red Rising Magazine, mâmawai-âcimowak, SAD Mag, Yellow Medicine Review, The Malahat Review, PRISM International, and The Next Quarterly.

Judges’ Citation

“Blending the resources of love song and elegy, prayer and manifesto, Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound is a World shows us poetry at its most intimate and politically necessary. Mindful of tangled lineages and the lingering erasures of settler colonialism, Belcourt crafts poems in which “history lays itself bare” – but only as bare as their speaker’s shapeshifting heart. Belcourt pursues original forms with which to chart the constellations of queerness and indigeneity, rebellion and survival, desire and embodiedness these poems so fearlessly explore. Between its bold treatment of sexuality and wary anatomy of despair, This Wound is a World peels back the layers of feeling and experience to offer, finally, the glimmerings of hope – which only sometimes looks like escape: “follow me out the backdoor of the world”. This electrifying book reminds us that a poem may live twin lives as incantation and inscription, singing from the untamed margins: “grieve is the name i give to myself / i carve it into the bed frame. / i am make-believe. / this is an archive. / it hurts to be a story.”

More about Billy-Ray Belcourt

The following are links to other Web sites with information about poet Billy-Ray Belcourt.

The 2018 Shortlist

The 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist features four International and three Canadian poetry collections:

International Shortlist

Heaven is All Goodbyes • Tongo Eisen-Martin
City Lights

Debths • Susan Howe
New Directions

Whereas • Layli Long Soldier
Graywolf Press

Hard Child • Natalie Shapero
Copper Canyon Press

Canadian Shortlist

This Wound is a World • Billy-Ray Belcourt
Frontenac House

I have to live. • Aisha Sasha John
McClelland & Stewart

Same Diff • Donato Mancini

The 2018 Judges

The awards ceremony, attended by some 320 invited guests, was held in the Fermenting Cellar in The Distillery Historic District. Scott Griffin, founder of the prize, and trustees Mark Doty, Carolyn Forché, Marek Kazmierski, Michael Ondaatje, Jo Shapcott, Karen Solie and David Young hosted the event where the guests enjoyed readings by Ana Blandiana and her translator Viorica Patea, The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s 2018 Lifetime Recognition Award recipient, a recitation of Wayde Compton’s ‘Illegalese: Floodgate Dub’, by Hamish Marissen-Clark, a 2018 national winner of Poetry In Voice/Les voix de la poésie, and a speech by August Kleinzahler, winner of the 2004 International Griffin Poetry Prize.

The judges for the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize are Sarah Howe (UK), Ben Lerner (US) and Ian Williams (Canada). These distinguished writers and poets each read 542 books of poetry, received from 33 countries around the globe, including 17 translations. The trustees of The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry select the judges annually.

The 2018 Shortlist Readings

On June 6 the poets read excerpts from their books at the Shortlist Readings to an audience of 1,000 people, in Toronto in Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning. Trustee Carolyn Forché presented each poet with a leather-bound edition of their book and $10,000 for their participation in the Readings.

2018 Lifetime Recognition

During the shortlist readings evening, The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s 2018 Lifetime Recognition Award was presented to Ana Blandiana, the most highly-acclaimed contemporary Romanian poet, whose stature is comparable to that of Anna Akhmatova in Russian, or Václav Havel in Czech, literature.

A prominent opponent of the Ceausescu regime, her daring, outspoken poems, along with her courageous attitude in the defence of ethical values, has made her a legendary figure in Romanian literature. She suffered various reprisals and prohibitions under two Communist dictatorships, and three bans on her writing (1959-64, 1985, 1988-89). Over the years, her works have become symbols of an ethical consciousness that refuses to be silenced by a totalitarian government.

Trustee Jo Shapcott paid tribute to Ana Blandiana and presented her with the award.

2018 Anthology

Each year The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology features the work of the extraordinary poets shortlisted for the awards and introduces us to some of the finest poems in their collections. The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology: A Selection of the 2018 Shortlist, edited by Ian Williams and published by House of Anansi Press, is now available at most retail bookstores and online.

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