Griffin Judges Announced

The Griffin Trust has announced their trio of judges for the 2011 edition of their prize. The three people passing judgement on the whole of English-language poetry will be Tim Lilburn, Colm Toibin (apologies to CT, my blog software has an allergy to accented vowels) and Chase Twichell. It’s a pretty standard list: 1 American, 1 Canadian, 1 Brit, 1 non-poet. My favourite part of the Griffin M.O. is that they tend to only have the one Canadian, and that they usually pick a canuck without a particularly strong attachment to the domestic scene. The last two Canadian judges, Redhill and Carson, lived outside the country. Lilburn, though officially a resident of the Dominion, is about as plugged-in as an Amish hermit with crippling agoraphobia.

Meanwhile, the Governor General’s awards continue to struggle with problems of proximity. Surely, we all remember the controversy from a few years back, but I imagine the struggle to find non-biased judges on a year-to-year basis is impossible, especially with the governmental mandate to use Canadians, and Canadians from a broad geographic spectrum. Anyone qualified enough to judge is unusable by the guidelines.

The joke in all of this is of course that there’s no such thing as non-biased judgement. But the Griffin, being a private prize, is allowed to avoid the perception of bias by drawing from a transnational pool of judges. Imagine the headlines (well, the small-print murmurings) if the GGs started “outsourcing” Canadian “cultural industry jobs” by hiring “foreign contractors”.

Looking at those judges, and the books that have come out already in 2010, I’m going to go way out on a limb and make a prediction. Dionne Brand wins the 2011 Griffin Award for her collection Ossuaries. I love this prediction for a couple reasons, as either I’ll be right and able to reach back to this post as evidence of my magnificent precognition, or I’ll be wrong and nobody will remember. Punditry is easy.

I’m not even going to touch the International Prize. How many books are eligible for that thing, 1500? No, thanks.

Explore posts in the same categories: Awards, Book Industry, Canadian Literature

5 Comments on “Griffin Judges Announced”

  1. Souverian Says:


    I read your blog regularly and usually enjoy how you get away from the same old debates about punditry. But I’m going to have to call you out on it in this case…

    So during my last few years at UVic I’ve been able to study with Tim Lilburn in poetry (as well as philosophy through poetry,) and I just wanted to disagree with you on your portrayal of his ‘awareness’ of the ‘scene’ and – I guess by extension – his validity as a pick for judging the Griffin prize.

    For example you called him “about as plugged-in as an Amish hermit with crippling agoraphobia.” Well, Tim has encouraged us to read and study far outside of what you’d probably expect from the UVic writing program. He’s been a big advocate there of the late Reginald Shepherd’s anthology, “Lyric Postmodernisms”, and the authors listed therein: people like Brenda Hillman, Peter Gizzi, and Rosmarie Waldrop. Not exactly those who are to poetry as an Ipod is to the Amish, are they? Last year he pretty much single handedly brought one of China’s foremost innovative poets to the school to teach and mentor for a semester (a guy by the pen-name of Xi Chuan, who just was featured in Grain and I think the Believer for two very different lit mags). Tim has been supportive of the visual poetics a friend of mine was exploring last year and was recommending people like Kevin McPherson Eckhoff and Daniel Scott Tysdal to the workshop. He also helps out his partner Helen with the administration and showcasing of art installations and poetry readings at Open Space Gallery in Victoria. People who’ve read there I can recall off the top of my head: Ken Belford, Sylvia Legris, Ken Babstock…

    Poets aren’t just the images of them that circulate through the gossip of other poets. Poets like Tim are doing vital work in the text and beyond it, in “regions” of poetry, for example Victoria, that are too easily stereotyped.

    Now, do you have any real criticism of Tim Lilburn as a judging pick that goes beyond your sniggering derision for his personality or his image? Do you think that because he tries to talk and write from a non-straightforward ‘settler’ perspective, because he draws from, along with others in his circle, interpretations of indigenous thought and mystical traditions, that he doesn’t represent “The Dominion”? I mean, sorry if I don’t get what your description of him is supposed to say to a reader other than “he’s not one of us and he just doesn’t get what’s going on today”. You’re wrong about that. I suppose I don’t get what the purpose of a post like this is if you already acknowledge within it that “punditry is easy”.

    Because, yes. It sure is. You’ve proved it.

  2. voxpopulism Says:

    Hi Souverian.

    If any part of what I wrote sounded like a critique of Lilburn as a judge, then we’ve had a breakdown of communication somewhere. I think he’s an excellent choice, for the reasons highlighted above. The aloofness from “the scene” is more of a social thing than an intellectual thing, and important to the judging process.

    Tim was an incredibly likeable guy in my interactions with him. I’m glad you benefit from him as well. Not sure why you thought I was saying otherwise.

    re: Punditry is easy. Of course. And it’s not possible I was being ironic or anything, amirite?

  3. Souverian Says:

    Miscommunication noted; all apologies. Thanks for the response though.

  4. Pearl Says:

    Good to get that clarified. It did sound like you thought he was a poor choice of judge.

    That UVic program sounds like a rush of ideas. Fascinating place to learn.

  5. […] I also want to remind you, dear internet, that on the day the judges were named, I told you that Dionne was going to win this year’s Canadian prize for Ossuaries. I do this not to pat my ego or anything (what’s the value of getting such a thing right?) […]

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