Groundbreaking Canadian AR Poetry Experience ‘Fiery Sparks of Light’ to Debut at Frankfurt Book Fair #2

Holographic storytelling experience features poems and performances by celebrated Canadian women poets including Margaret Atwood

TORONTO – October 14, 2021 – An intimate and imaginative augmented reality (AR) poetry experience spotlighting Canadian women poets will debut at the internationally acclaimed Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) from October 20 to 24, 2021 in Frankfurt, Germany. Fiery Sparks of Light is an immersive and sensory celebration of poetry and the important contributions women poets have made to Canada’s international literary reputation. The production reimagines a collection of poems by four renowned Canadian women poets – Margaret Atwood, Nicole Brossard, Canisia Lubrin and Sarah Tolmie – as an augmented reality experience featuring holographic performances.

Continue reading “Groundbreaking Canadian AR Poetry Experience ‘Fiery Sparks of Light’ to Debut at Frankfurt Book Fair #2”


Sarah Tolmie

copyright ©2018

It continues fashionable to mourn the death of ritual.
We miss the Neolithic ochre, smoking censers, silly hats
Cthulhu and Harryhausen prayers, all the mystic flap.

No one has ever owned death much better than that.
Still, ours are not that bad.
Hospitals have strict norms,

Specific times and tricky forms,
Rotting fruit and flowers.
We say conventional things at canonical hours.

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week is from the 2019 Griffin-shortlisted collection, The Art of Dying (McGill-Queen's University Press) by poet Sarah Tolmie. Of the collection, the judges said: “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.’” Listen to Sarah Tolmie read for the Griffin Poetry Prize Award Ceremony here


Per Brask and Patrick Friesen, translated from the Danish written by Ulrikka S. Gernes

copyright ©2015

No More Now. Even Fear Has Fear. Even Of Itself.
I refuse to be lonely. No longer. It’s enough now.
Language contradicts itself, constantly producing
additions, disclaimers and footnotes. And the body
never gets ready, nails grow out, and hair, in the strangest
places. Here is the mountainside is black with lemons.
At the very moment I rest within my contour a dam
breaks. Maybe there’s a connection. I am someone
who…bounded by skin, is alone. I say it again, as loud
as I can: not another word! Maybe everything is connected.
Several thousand kilometers away you move your hand.
And here everything is instantly flooded.

Notes on the Poem

We continue to celebrate works in translation with this week’s poem, an excerpt from the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize Canadian shortlisted collection, Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen translated from the Danish written by Ulrikka Gernes. Of this collection, the judges said, “this collaboration between Danish poet, Ulrikka Gernes and Canadian writers, Brask and Friesen, is astonishingly successful, every line at home in its new language. The poems have not stopped being poems. In fact, now that they are speaking through three mouths (one female, two male) they seem to have gathered an extra layer of strangeness which suits their dream-like, mutable, almost anonymous voice.” Listen to Per Brask, Patrick Friesen, and Ulrikka Gernes read for the Griffin Poetry Prize Award Ceremony here

Asphyxiation (Day Forty-Six)

Don Mee Choi

copyright ©2018

Hence breath
Then breath
Next breath
Subsequent breath
Because breath
Such breath
And breath
Same breath
Thereafter breath
Thus breath
Always breath
Eventually breath
Perpetually breath
Yet breath
However breath
Therefore breath
In spite of breath
Breath till the bitter end

Death breathes and you dream but
it’s time to remove the ventilator from death
it’s time to shatter the dream with a hammer

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week celebrates poet-translator Don Mee Choi, winner of the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize, and now recipient of the 2021 MacArthur Fellowship for her poetry and translation. Congratulations, Don Mee Choi! The poem of the week, “Asphyxiation (Day Forty-Six)” is excerpted from Autobiography of Death (New Directions), translated from the Korean written by Kim Hyesoon. In the Translator’s Note bookending the collection, Don Mee Choi writes: “[Autobiography of Death] gives voice to those unjustly killed during Korea’s violent contemporary history, but it also unveils what Kim refers to as “the structure of death, that we remain living in. An aspect of this structure is the neocolonial and neoliberal order that has shaped Korea’s history since the US intervention at the end of World War II. Autobiography is at once an autotestimony and an autoceremony that reenacts trauma and narrates our historical death—how we have died and how we remain living within the structure of death.” Watch this video from the MacArthur Foundation announcing Don Mee Choi as a 2021 fellow. Listen to Don Mee Choi and Kim Hyesoon read jointly from Autobiography of Death.

Bus Stops: Ars Poetica

Valzhyna Mort

copyright ©2020

Not books, but
a street opened my mouth like a doctor’s spatula.

One by one, streets introduced themselves
with the names of national

In the State Archives, covers
hardened like scabs
over the ledgers.


Inside a tiny apartment
I built myself
into a separate room.

Inside a tiny apartment
I built myself
into a separate room,

peopled it
with the Calibans
of plans for the future.

Future that runs on the schedule of public buses,
from the zoo to the circus,
what future;
what is your alibi for these ledgers, these streets, this
apartment, this future?


In the purse which held—
through seven wars—
the birth certificates
of the dead, my grandmother
hid—from me—
chocolates. The purse opened like a screaming mouth.


The purse opened like a screaming mouth.
Its two shiny buckles watched me
through doors, through walls, through jazz.

Who has taught you to be a frightening face, purse?
I kiss your buckles, I swear myself your subject.


August. Apples. I have nobody.
August. For me, a ripe apple is a brother.

For me, a four-legged table is a pet.


In the temple of Supermarket
I stand
like a candle

in the line to the priestesses who preserve
the knowledge of sausage prices, the virginity
of milk cartons. My future, small


Future that runs on the schedule of public buses.
Streets introduced themselves
with the names
of national murderers. I build myself
into a separate room,
where memory,
the illegal migrant in time, cleans up
after imagination.

Bus stops:
My future, an empty seat.


In a room where memory strips the beds—
linens that hardened like scabs
on the mattresses—I kiss

little apples—my brothers—I kiss the buckles
that watch us through walls,
through years,
through jazz,
chocolates from a purse that held—through seven wars—
birth certificates of the dead!

Hold me, brother-apple.

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week is by our 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Valzhyna Mort, who is also one of our recently announced 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize judges (alongside Adam Dickinson and Claudia Rankine)! In the past few weeks, we have featured poems addressing the multifaceted relationship between poetry and translation. Valzhyna Mort is another prolific poet-translator who translates between English, Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish. She received the National Endowment for the Arts grant in translation for her work on Polina Barskova’s book of selected poems, Air Raid, out this October with Ugly Duckling Presse. Mort’s poem, “Bus Stops: Ars Poetica,” from her Griffin-winning collection Music for the Dead and Resurrected, gives us a “poetic map for the many themes of remembrance and loss in the book and, more importantly, the ways in which the state attempts to re-write memory” (Grandbois). Her translation of Barskova similarly takes us through the archives of memory “post-death, post-Holocaust, post-Siege, post-revolution; post-marriage and post-literature” and “confronts English excavating its muteness, stutter, and curse.” (Ugly Duckling). Purchase Music for the Dead and Resurrected, Mort’s Griffin-winning collection here. Purchase Air Raid, Mort’s translation of Barskova, here.

Soft Link 1

Robert Majzels and Erín Moure translated from the French written by Nicole Brossard

copyright ©2007

It’s fears slow and fascinating that enter life each morning at coffee time while she wonders if tomorrow there’ll be war and brusquely as she does each morning slices bread and cheese. It’s gestures of uncontrollable avidity that proliferate in the throng and its worldly febrility, its parquet fever on the trading floor and stage. It’s hesitations, heart cries that crisscross broad avenues full of shade and dust that attract and make us think of our legs and elbows, our knees too when desire bumps and bounces words and feelings upward, it’s simple things with prefixes like cyber or bio that hold thoughts fast, float them a moment till we believe them aquatic and marvellous. It’s certainties that in tiny increments of dust and light are soon mixed with our tears. It’s inexplicable feelings made of small hurts strung over long years and vast horizons, it’s blues ideas that settle in where the happiness of existing threatens to take the breath away or to lodge itself in the throat like an instrument of fervour. It’s glimmers of intoxications impossible to look at for long, thoughts so precise that engage us beyond shade and wind, far beyond crude words, so noisy so terribly close to silence that the world all around seems suddenly engulfed in high seas and continual rustling like the music in our heads that in one stroke of the bow dislodges all that resists torment. It’s underlined passages, fragments of happiness that traverse the body and raise bridges all around because elsewhere and in the wild blue yonder they say there’s euphoria. It’s written down with bruises, abundance of life burst to fullness in a world and its niches of worn paths that lick at the shadow of bones.

Notes on the Poem

Our 500th Poem of the Week continues to celebrate translation, polyvocality and artist collaboration. Here is “Soft Link 1” from the 2008 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection, Notebook of Roses and Civilization (Coach House Books) by Robert Majzels and Erín Moure translated from the French Written by Nicole Brossard. Of the collection, the judges said: “Over her four decades of writing and depublishing poems and novels and essays-textes, Nicole Brossard has always shone an investigative light on every word that comes to her, and turned a demanding ear to each item of punctuation and notation. She sees the universe in the word for sand, and knows that it could be sable mouvant. So the translators of Nicole Brossard have to make poems we will love to read the way a carpenter loves a finished table.” Listen to Majzels, Moure, and Brossard read Soft Link 3 in this stunning polyphonic performance.

Judges for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize Announced

TORONTO – September 15, 2021 – The trustees of The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry are pleased to announce that Adam Dickinson (Canada), Valzhyna Mort (Belarus), and Claudia Rankine (Jamaica/US) are the judges for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Continue reading “Judges for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize Announced”

Lake Michigan, Scene 1

Daniel Borzutzky

copyright ©2018

They beat me even though I did nothing

I don’t know what day it was

But they beat me on the beach

They beat me with iron paws

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

Then 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

And I was dead

But I could feel the sand on my body

I could feel the sand filling my mouth

I could feel the sand in my eyes

There was an earthquake in my eyes

There was a tornado in my mouth

But after the storms passed it was peaceful and I was dead

And they beat me even though I did nothing

They said I was illegal

They said I was an immigrant

They said I was an illegal immigrant who roamed the streets in a gang

They said I raped people

They said I killed people

They said I smuggled drugs in my gastrointestinal tract

They said I didn’t speak the right language

They said my boss exploited me and I tried to kill him

They said my boss treated me well and I tried to kill him

They said my heart was dark

They said I peddled in blood

They said this is only war and that I had the audacity to think
my body could resist the state

Let death come quickly    I asked

Let death be easy

But I did not know how long it would take

I did not know I would be under the sand forever

I did not know that in Chicago the bodies do not die when they
have been strangled or riddled with bullets

A journalist asked the mayor why they killed us

I am not responsible     said the mayor

There will be an inquest    said the mayor

We will bring the perpetrators to justice     said the mayor

He was wearing a slim fitting suit and he looked handsome as
the hurricane entered his mouth

He was wearing a slim fitting suit and he looked handsome as he
pretended he did not live in a city of state-killed cadavers

He had gel in his hair and his shoes were nicely polished

I died and I died again and a voice said something about hope

Another voice said you pay a big price for hope

I dragged myself around the sand and I tried to make it to the
water because I thought the water might carry me away but each
time I took a step closer to the water the water moved farther
from my body and there were faces in the water and they were
calling to me and I was trying to get to them

It’s what you do when you are dead

But every time I took a step toward the water the water drew
farther away

And the faces in the water were murmuring and their murmurs
grew louder and louder as I moved nearer and farther

And it is only war     a voice said      by way of explanation     as
he photographed my dead body on the sand

And I was dead though I was still breathing when I finally made
it to the water

And in the water there was another war going on in the waves

It was only the beginning of the war that would kill me again
and again

Notes on the Poem

This week’s poem, “Lake Michigan, Scene 1,” is excerpted from Daniel Borzutsky’s 2019 shortlisted collection, Lake Michigan (University of Pittsburgh Press). For the past few weeks, our Poem of the Week focused on translated poems, poems about translation, as well as poems written by poet-translators. Daniel Borzutzky’s translations to Spanish include Raúl Zurita's Song for his Disappeared Love (Action Books, 2010) and Jaime Luis Huenún's Port Trakl (Action Books, 2008), among others. Although not a translation per se, Lake Michigan is written from the perspective of someone who doesn’t “speak the right language.” Of the collection, the judges said: “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.”

Found in Translation

Elaine Equi

copyright ©2007

I’ve always liked reading poetry in translation. In fact, I prefer it that way.

Poetry is the sound one language makes when it escapes into another.

Whatever you think you’ve missed is, as the saying goes, better left to the imagination.

It gives even a mediocre poem an ineffable essence.

Greater involvement on the part of the reader leads to greater enjoyment.

A bad translation, a clumsy one, is especially charming.

The poem is whatever cannot be killed by the translator.

Its will to survive, its willingness to be uprooted and flee its homeland is admirable. I almost want to say virile.

An untranslated poem is too attached to its author. It’s too raw.

An untranslatable poem that hordes its meaning, whose borders are too guarded, is better unsaid.

For years, I copied authors from around the world. Then one day it occurred to me, perhaps it’s the translator I imitate, not the poet. This idea pleases me and makes me want to write more.

It would be great to learn French in order to read William Carlos Williams.

Translators are the true transcendentalists.

Notes on the Poem

We begin the week with "Found in Translation," a poem by Elaine Equi from her 2008 shortlisted collection, Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press). Equi’s sophisticated prose explores the multifaceted and deeply fascinating relationship between poetry and translation. “Poetry is the sound one language makes when it escapes into another,” she writes, equating poetry to the very act of translation. Of the collection, the judges said: “The words could stand as an accurate description of Equi’s own highly distinct poems. They too move with a bounce and twist; they have their own insouciant, confident wit, their own beautifully poised way of looking outward at the world in all its quirky variousness, while at the same time retaining an uncompromised inwardness: the registering of a complex, sophisticated poetic self.” Listen to Equi’s Griffin Poetry Prize reading here.

What’s new?

Elizabeth Winslow, translated from the Arabic written by Dunya Mikhail

copyright ©2006

I saw a Ghost pass in the mirror.
Someone whispered something in my ear.
I said a word, and left.
Graves were scattered with mandrake seeds.
A bleating sound entered the assembly.
Gardens remained hanging.
Straw was scattered with the words.
No fruit is left.
Someone climbed on the shoulders of another.
Someone descended into the netherworld.
Other things are happening
in secret.
I don’t know what they are—
This is everything.

Notes on the Poem

For the next few months, our Poem of the Week will highlight poetry in translation, featuring excerpts from our shortlisted and winning collections. This week’s poem, “What’s New?,” is excerpted from the 2006 shortlisted collection, The War Works Hard, by Elizabeth Winslow translated from the Arabic written by Dunya Mikhail. Of the collection, the judges, say; “These are political poems without political rhetoric, Arabic poems without Arabic poetical flourishes, an exile’s letter with neither nostalgia nor self-pity, an excavation of the ruins of her homeland where the Sumerian goddess Inana is followed on the next page by the little American devil Lynndie England. In Elizabeth Winslow’s perfect translations, poetry takes on its ancient function of restoring meaning to the language. Here is the war in Iraq in English without a single lie.” Listen to Dunya Mikhael read in this 92Y reading.