Following the Shortlist Readings in Toronto on June 5th, international and Canadian winners of the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize have been officially announced. Encouraging excellence in poetry since 2000, the Griffin Poetry Prize is one of the world’s most generous poetry prizes. Winners each receive C$65,000, while shortlisted poets receive $10,000 for their participation in the Shortlist Readings. Judges Ulrikka Gernes (Denmark), Kim Maltman (Canada) and Srikanth Reddy (US), each read 510 books of poetry (including 37 translated works) from 32 countries in order to decide on the international and Canadian recipients: Autobiography of Death translated by Don Mee Choi from Kim Hyesoon’s Korean (New Directions), and Quarrels by Eve Joseph (Anvil Press). The seven shortlisted works include three other international works: The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus, Lake Michigan by Daniel Borzutzky, and Negative Space, translated by Ani Gjika from Luljeta Lleshanaku’s original Albanian, and two more Canadian books: The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand, and The Art of Dying by Sarah Tolmie.
Don Mee Choi’s sixth translation of Kim Hyesoon, following her previous celebrated translations such as I’m OK, I’m Pig!, Autobiography of Death is a collection of forty-nine poems which each represent a single day when the spirit roams after death before entering the cycle of reincarnation. On this work, The Griffin Prize Judges have said:
“In the grievous wake of the Sewol Ferry incident of 2014, the Korean poet Kim Hyesoon composed a cycle of forty-nine poems—one for each day the dead must await reincarnation—to produce a harrowing work of shock, outrage, and veneration for the children lost to this disaster. Through Don Mee Choi’s extraordinary translations, we hear the clamorous registers of Hyesoon’s art—a transnational collision of shamanism, Modernism, and feminism—yield ‘a low note no one has ever sung before.’ That otherworldly tone may sound like life itself, the poet sings, ‘for even death can’t enter this deep inside me.”
On Eve Joseph’s collection Quarrels, the judges cited:
“In Quarrels, Eve Joseph’s delightful collection of prose poems, you enter the marvelous and that is the truth! The poet has surrendered herself to the realm of the illogical, trusting that it has a logic of its own, and the outcome is, indeed, a new music. These poems are intriguing spaces and moments defeating the boundaries of the real, but rest assured, Joseph leads you by the hand with warmth, wit and empathy.”
During the Shortlist Readings event, The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s 2019 Lifetime Recognition Award was also awarded. Having published over thirty books since 1965, winner Nicole Brossard is also a novelist and essayist, and twice winner of the Governor General’s Award for poetry. Her work is available in many languages, such as German, Italian, Japanese, Slovenian, Romanian, Norwegian, Catalan, and Portuguese, and is widely translated into English and Spanish.