Presenting the Griffin Poetry Prize 2019 Winners

TORONTO – Thursday, June 6, 2019 – Autobiography of Death by Don Mee Choi, translated from the Korean written by Kim Hyesoon (New Directions) and Quarrels by Eve Joseph (Anvil Press) are the International and Canadian winners of the 2019 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.

Don Mee Choi translated from the Korean written by Kim Hyesoon

Autobiography of Death published by New Directions


Born in Seoul, South Korea, Don Mee Choi is the author of The Morning News Is Exciting (2010) and Hardly War (Wave Books). She has received a Whiting Award, Lannan Literary Fellowship, Lucien Stryk Translation Prize, and the 2019 DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship.

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

Eve Joseph

Quarrels published by Anvil Press


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

The 2019 Shortlist

The 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist features four International and three Canadian poetry collections:

International Shortlist

The Perseverance • Raymond Antrobus
Penned in the Margins

Lake Michigan • Daniel Borzutzky
University of Pittsburgh Press

Autobiography of Death • Don Mee Choi, translated from the Korean written by Kim Hyesoon
New Directions

Negative Space • Ani Gjika, translated from the Albanian written by Luljeta Lleshanaku
Bloodaxe Books

Canadian Shortlist

The Blue Clerk • Dionne Brand
McClelland & Stewart

Quarrels • Eve Joseph
Anvil Press

The Art of Dying • Sarah Tolmie
McGill-Queen’s University Press

The 2019 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, Jo Shapcott, Karen Solie, Ian Williams and David Young hosted the event where the guests enjoyed readings by Nicole Brossard, The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s 2019 Lifetime Recognition Award recipient, and a recitation of the poem “Star Gazer” by Dominique Christina, by Catricia Hiebert, a 2019 national winner of Poetry In Voice/Les voix de la poésie.

The judges for the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize are Ulrikka Gernes (Denmark), Kim Maltman (Canada) and Srikanth Reddy (US). These distinguished writers and poets each read 510 books of poetry, received from 32 countries around the globe, including 37 translations. The trustees of The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry select the judges annually.

The 2019 Shortlist Readings

On June 5 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 Karen Solie presented each poet with a leather-bound edition of their book and $10,000 for their participation in the Readings.

The 2019 Lifetime Recognition Award Recipient

During the shortlist readings evening, The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s 2019 Lifetime Recognition Award was presented to Nicole Brossard. Poet, novelist and essayist, twice Governor General’s Award winner for poetry, she has published more than thirty books since 1965. She is an officer of the Order of Canada, chevalière of the National Order of Quebec, and a member of l’Académie des lettres du Québec. Her work has been widely translated into English and Spanish, and is also available in many languages, including German, Italian, Japanese, Slovenian, Romanian, Norwegian, Catalan, and Portuguese.

Trustee Carolyn Forché paid tribute to Nicole Brossard and presented her with the award.

The 2019 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 2019, edited by Kim Maltman and published by House of Anansi Press, is now available at most retail bookstores and online.

The 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize anthology has been released in print and digital braille versions. Learn more from House of Anansi Press and the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS).

For further information

Please direct other inquiries as follows:

Media Inquiries:
Melissa Shirley
Telephone: (647) 389-9510

General Inquiries:
Ruth Smith, Executive Director
Telephone: (905) 618-0420

Shortlist summary, poet bios and citations

Download press release, poet bios and citations

Download photos

Purchase 2019 Griffin Prize Anthology and shortlist books online