Griffin Shortlists

2011 Griffin Awards Canadian Shortlist
Ossuaries by Dionne Brand (M&S)
The Irrationalists by Suzanne Buffam (Anansi)
Lookout by John Steffler (M&S)

2011 Griffin Awards International Shortlist
Human Chain by Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
Selected Poems by Adonis, trans: Khaled Mattawa (Yale University Press)
The Book of the Snow by Francois Jacqmin, trans: Philip Mosley (Arc)
Heavenly Questions by Gjertrud Schnackenberg (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)

Spare Thoughts: Okay. I’m not going to make a huge deal over this. I’m just going to casually point out the fact that, five minutes after the judges for this year’s awards were announced, I officially told the world that Dionne Brand was going to win the Canadian Griffin for Ossuaries. Okay. That’s the last I’m going to mention it, except that I’m going to restate my earlier prediction: Dionne Brand is going to win the Griffin Award for Canadian Poetry. The Steffler inclusion is surprising, and he might pull an upset, but I’m going to stay with the horse I rode in on, I think. I’ve read exactly one of the four international finalists, which is about par for the course for me. There’s a lot of books out there, no time to read em all. Anybody in the national media who starts a paragraph with “Heaney, the best know of the International finalists…” owes an apology to Syria.

To get back to the Canadian list, though. I think what it reinforces is that the Griffin, for all the splash it’s made in its first eleven years, is still a distinctly canonical, conservative, prize. We make a big deal out of diversions from this. For example, the three debuts to make the list (The Certainty Dream, Crabwise to the Hounds, Short Haul Engine) are given a real pedestal in the recent history of our poetry, but this is because it’s an extremely rare feat. How many debuts have garnered GG noms in that time? There were two this year alone.

There’s a push in the adolescence of the Griffin towards assigning one trophy to each of the top, say, fifteen Canadian poets working. It’s an award of which we can say, “It’s their year”. It was Karen Solie’s year last year, really before the jury was even announced and (I’d argue) before her book was released. That’s not to take anything away from Pigeon, which I feel was a really strong book. It’s just how it is. The Griffins are an organism of a certain inertia. There are always multiple canonizing factors every year (the death of P.K. Page was one), but in general, last year was Karen Solie’s year. This year, I think, is Dionne Brand’s. Next year feels like it’ll probably be Ken Babstock. I think we’re going to see A LOT of first-time Griffin winners before we see any second-time Griffin winners.

The problem with that inertia is it often arrives for the wrong book. A lot of people would have preferred, say, that Don McKay won for Camber instead of Strike/Slip, or that there had been Griffins around when Margaret Avison was in her prime, instead of her winning for Wild Carrot. Even the inclusion (and, I feel, eventual coronation) of Ossuaries feels like an echo for the surprisingly un-nominated Inventory, of which it is a spiritual successor.

I say all this knowing that the jury changes every year, that it’s just three people in a room somewhere, and that assigning populis to a group of three is a mug’s game. But the narrative is there, isn’t it? Should we just ignore it?

Omissions: How does one do this? This is a blog with a general bias towards Canadian poetry, and a more intimate affiliation with “new” or “young” Canadian poets. And award that has no longlist, and a shortlist of just three, and has listed maybe 4 poets under the age of forty over its first ten years is generally going to rack up a lot of shouldas from me. I started making a list, and deleted it when said list got to 20 names. Everybody makes their own list. This is the one that counts. Kudos to The Company for getting two names on the final three. It was a good year for McClelland & Stewart Poetry.

Coming Soon: The return of that noted mad statistical scientist, Dr. Vox, and his annual update of “Griffin Awards Math“.

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2 Comments on “Griffin Shortlists”

  1. LH Says:

    Yes, I agree, it’s Dionne Brand’s year. Steffler has a long and distinguished career as well. I didn’t love this latest book on the whole, but I can certainly get behind his body of work.

  2. Nathan Says:

    “There’s a push in the adolescence of the Griffin towards assigning one trophy to each of the top, say, fifteen Canadian poets working. It’s an award of which we can say, ‘It’s their year’.”

    The Gillers went through the exact same extended adolescence. You can look through the list of jurors in its first decade or so and find a surprising correlation between time served on jury and eventual win, turning the prize into a career-achievement award. (Or, at its worst, a fellowship award.) I think it has mostly shaken that now (especially this year) – or should I say, “now that pretty much everyone who has had such a career has won one.”

    The reality, though, is that the winner is often also the consensus choice, the one everyone had second on their list.

    My Griffin Omissions: everyone cool that I know.


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