National Newswatch

TORONTO — The Griffin Poetry Prize is doubling its purse to $130,000 by consolidating its Canadian award category into one global competition.

For more than two decades, the Griffin has annually honoured poets in two categories — one Canadian, one international — with prestigious prizes that in recent years have been worth $65,000 apiece.

The Griffin announced Thursday that it's combining the awards into a single prize, billed as the world's largest for a first-edition single collection of poetry written in or translated into English.

The new format will see Canadians compete against writers from around the world to make a 10-book long list, which will then be whittled down to five finalists.

The Griffin has alsocreated a new $10,000 prize for a debut collection by a Canadian poet, which also includes a six-week residency in Italy. It will continue to hand out a $25,000 Lifetime Recognition Award.

Toronto benefactor Scott Griffin says the changes reflect how the prize has helped raised the international profile of Canadian poetry, which was "relatively unknown" when the Griffin Trust was founded in 2000.

"By continuing with the Canadian prize, there was the implied impression that Canadian poets were unable to compete or sit with the best of the international poets," Griffin said by phone ahead of Thursday's announcement. "And frankly, that's not true."

The Griffin has decorated a number of prominent Canadian poets, counting Anne Carson, Dionne Brand, Nicole Brossard, Robin Blaser and David McFadden among its past recipients.

In recent years, the Canadian prize has helped launch the careers of such rising stars as Billy-Ray Belcourt, Liz Howard and Tolu Oloruntoba, all of whom were recognized for their first collections.

Griffin, a businessman and philanthropist,  dismissed concerns that the elimination of a dedicated Canadian award could hurt the chances of homegrown poets to gain recognition both nationally and in the global literary scene.

"After 22 years that I've given Canadian poets a leg up on that scene, I think it's time that they compete on equal footing," he said.

The award's purpose is to foster appreciation for poetry that transcends international borders, said Griffin. However, he said, the revamped prize could do more to put Canadian poetry on the map by showing that the country is home to world-class wordsmiths.

"Wouldn't it be fantastic if somebody like Anne Carson wins that top prize?" he said of the Toronto-born poet, who has twice won the Griffin's Canadian honour. "Obviously, she's going to get a lot of coverage in Canada, but she's got to get a lot of coverage worldwide." 

Acclaimed Canadian author Ian Williams said he and his fellow Griffin trustees spent years deliberating how to restructure the award to best serve poets both at home and abroad.

Williams said earning a spot on the Griffin's 2013 Canadian short list for his second book of poetry, "Personals," sent him on a literary trajectory that would carry him to win the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2019.

The Brampton, Ont.-raised author said he's confident Canadian poets will continue to benefit from the Griffin spotlight while sharing it with writers from other countries.

"The effect of being in the company of other great poets will always have a significant effect on the careers of Canadian poets," Williams said. "I just don't see Canadians being ignored from the … spirit of the prize."

Margaret Atwood, who was among the Griffin's founding trustees, applauded the new awards model in a statement Thursday.

"At a time when censorship and attacks on a diverse array of writers are on the rise in many countries — including the United States — it's heartening to see such a strong vote of confidence in poets coming from Canada."

The Griffin is set to announce its 10-book long list in March. The five finalists will be announced in April, and the winner of the $130,000 prize will be named in Toronto on June 7.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2022.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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