canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Griffin 2006: Coach House Wins

by Nathaniel G. Moore

Toronto -- June 1, 2006 -- The most notorious and rich poetry prize in the world is done for another year. Yes, the high profile Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry has named another two poets and books into its legacy, after a record-setting year of 441 books submitted for consideration.

The decorative gala was held at Toronto's Distillery district complete with (and in no particular order) Toronto’s literati, rugby-tough security, chocolate fountain, lush deserts and, of course, alcohol. As the food settled in the stomachs of the rich, the poor and the in between, the crowd was moved without warning from their digestion to the comedic world of publishing and poetry all thanks to the brilliant master of ceremony for the evening, poet Simon Armitage. Armitage, who judged the prize in 2005 took the stage and had the eclectic audience eating out of his hands with his hilarious take on the plight of the poet in the twenty-first century. Armitage’s eloquent and sweet soliloquy helped the evening’s audience and short-listed poets prepare for some inevitable disappointment, including a personal story about a poetry reading that ended with the poet finding an autographed copy of his poetry book in a discount bin at a local used shop, only to discover it was made out to Mom and Dad.

Kamau Brathwaite, 75, who calls CowPastor, Barbados and New York City home took the international prize for Born to Slow Horses (Wesleyan University Press) and read a long spoken-word-styled piece. It was melodic and enjoyable, perhaps award winners in other industries will adopt this method of acceptance.

For the second time in four years, Coach House Books took home the Canadian category with Sylvia Legris’ Nerve Squall. Legris was astonished at the podium: "This is terrifying, but it's such an honour," she said, charming the audience explaining she worried she lost all her luck on the ride over from Saskatoon. "I came here on Via Rail and cleaned up at bingo on the train."

Of her work, the judges said "her eye is that of the twenty-first century – zooming from satellite to microscope – but her focus and coherence are increasingly rare in this age. In her hands, language refracts in ways which break open etymology to bring us more sense rather than less. Legris’ poems build like chords from sub- to super-sonic and, even at their most rapid and heightened point, sustain the force of poetic enquiry. There is always, as she says, ‘something on your hook, you feel it.’"

Coach House Books senior editor Alana Wilcox was pleased. "We're thrilled that the Griffin jury chose to honour Nerve Squall. It's a brave, challenging book, and it's very encouraging to see such work honoured. We couldn't be happier for Sylvia." Since the win, the book has been scheduled to go into another printing. Says Coach House publicist Christina Palassio, "We've been getting more direct orders through our site, but most orders are coming from the indies and Indigo through LitDistCo. We haven't seen too many US, though we're in the midst of a big US publicity push for the book that we hope will result in increased sales."

And so it was for this correspondent, a tight-tied, emotionally stormy, long, internationally dark poetic night of lushy literary swinage. Until next year, when the Griffin charm seduces another generation of hope, and invites the collective throat to drown in the chocolate fountain, keep polishing those ghazals

Nathaniel G. Moore is existentially sound.







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