‘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.
Notes on the PoemIf you've followed the Griffin Poetry Prize Poem of the Week feature for any amount of time (this is week 422 in our uninterrupted presentation of work from or associated with the prize's shortlists), we regularly take as our cue the observations of our judges about the collections from which these poems came. These citations are thoughtful, well-crafted tributes that are regularly creative and poetic mini works unto themselves. The citation for Raymond Antrobus' 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection The Perseverance opens with a brief, memorable quotation from the poem "After Being Called a Fucking Foreigner in London Fields". From that quotation, the citation plays off its fighting metaphor with the phrase "streetwise feint". It then segues to a counter-argument to the poem's claim that the narrator (and by extension Antrobus) has "no technique" and praises his indeed subtle and formidable technique. It considers, as well, the immensity of the heart in this collection. A small but significant element in the citation's opening is the use of the slash (/) to delineate the line breaks in the layout of the poem from which the excerpt is taken. In this first of three uses of the slash in this citation, it is used to separate, a convention that is explained here. Interestingly, this same slight symbol is used for the exact opposite purpose - to bring together - in the following two instances. The slash is used again in the adjective "d/Deaf", which we confirmed is pronounced "deaf" when we prepared the audio version of this citation: The adjective "deaf" (with a lower-case "d") is a medical term referring to people who have little or no functional hearing. The adjective "Deaf" (with a capital "D") is, as explained by the Canadian Association of the Deaf, "a sociological term referring to those individuals who are medically deaf or hard of hearing who identify with and participate in the culture, society, and language of Deaf people, which is based on Sign language." The slash draws both worlds together with the same subtlety with which the citation praises Antrobus' stirring work. The slash appears again in "Jamaican/British", describing other worlds and cultures the poet has navigated and reflected and reflected on in his work. In this and the previous instance, the slash is a unifying element. The citation wraps that up magnificently as it concludes: "Perhaps that slash between verses and signs is where the truth is." The following are other selected judges' citations that present Griffin Poetry Prize winning and shortlisted works in particularly beautiful and at times provocative fashion.
- Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson Griffin Poetry Prize 2001 - Canadian Winner (Judges: Carolyn Forche, Dennis Lee, Paul Muldoon)
- Born to Slow Horses by Kamau Brathwaite Griffin Poetry Prize 2006 - International Winner (Judges: Lavinia Greenlaw, Lisa Robertson, Eliot Weinberger)
- Methodist Hatchet by Ken Babstock Griffin Poetry Prize 2012 - Canadian Winner (Judges: Heather McHugh, David O'Meara, Fiona Sampson)
- Ocean by Sue Goyette Griffin Poetry Prize 2014 - Canadian Shortlist (Judges: Robert Bringhurst, Jo Shapcott, CD Wright)
- Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo Griffin Poetry Prize 2016 - International Shortlist (Judges: Alice Oswald, Tracy K Smith, Adam Sol)