Griffin Poetry Prize 2012 Shortlist Announced!

April is the cruelest month but for these shortlisted poets it’s their favorite time of year. Here are the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlisted poets:

Canadian Shortlist:

Methodist Hatchet – Ken Babstock (House of Anansi Press)

Killdeer – Phil Hall (BookThug)

Forge – Jan Zwicky (Gaspereau Press)

International Shortlist:

Night – David Harsent (Faber and Faber)

Chameleon Couch – Yusef Komunyakaa (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

November – Sean O’Brien (Picador)

Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz

Translated by Joanna Trzeciak (W.W. Norton & Company)

This year’s judges Heather McHugh (USA), David O’Meara (Canada) and Fiona Sampson (England) each read 481 books of poetry, from 37 countries, including 19 translations. All 7 finalists will receive $10,000 for their participation in the Shortlist Readings on June 6th at Koerner Hall. The winners (one international and one Canadian) will be announced on June 7th and will be awarded $65,000.

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam

An Irrationalist is “one without rationality for their beliefs or ideas” and so too are most poets. Is Suzanne Buffam calling herself an Irrationalist in this, her second book of poems? Or must the reader believe in the irrational to contemplate her words?

Buffam transports the reader of The Irrationalist into a world of dreams with such vivid imagery that one becomes conflicted by the emotions her poetry evokes. You don’t need to be without rationality to read Buffam but you would do well by suspending all disbelief. Reading her poetry is like waking from a dream that you can’t decide was real or not.

Some of my favorite lines are from the first poem in the book:

“Or can worth be conferred

On a less than epic urge?”

(Ruined Interior p. 3)

My days are full of less than epic urges. And I’m constantly concerned with my worth and the worth of this world. But perhaps I’m being pessimistic and a tad melodramatic?

The interior will come back and haunt the reader in other poems titled: Romantic Interior, Infinitive Interior, Telescopic Interior, Dim-Lit Interior and Vanishing Interior.  And the reader is made to ask, what interior is Buffam making us think about? Is it the interior of the mind or is it the physical interior of the Earth? There are apocalyptic undertones in lines such as:

“Down here the weather’s red

And the century’s turning

Every storm back to port.”

(Telescopic Interior, p. 69)

“One day the sun will burn so brightly it will turn all our seas into

vast boiling vats.”

(Dim-Lit Interior, p.76).

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Her “Little Commentaries” read like wise, and sometimes optimistic, words from a poetic sage.

What are your reactions to Suzanne Buffam’s The Irrationalist?

The 2011 International and Canadian Shortlist for The Griffin Poetry Prize

Each year The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry invites 7 finalists, three Canadian and four International, to read in Toronto at Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory of Music in the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning. The 7 finalists will be awarded $10,000 for their participation in the shortlist readings on May 31st and the winners will be awarded $65,000 each on June 1, 2011.


International Shortlist:

Human Chain by Seamus Heaney

Adonis: Selected Poems translated by Khaled Mattawa from the Arabic written by Adonis

The Book of the Snow translated by Philip Mosley from the French written by Francois Jacqmin

Heavenly Questions by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Canadian Shortlist:

Ossuaries by Dionne Brand

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam

Lookout by John Steffler

The judges on the panel include none other than Tim Lilburn (Canada), Colm Toibin (Ireland) and Chase Twichel (USA). But in order to form my own opinions and hear back from the people I will be reading and reviewing each nominee. So stay tuned for some poetry reviews and please don’t be shy in sharing your opinions as well.

Wondering Where the Dodo Went?

Even in a large bookstore with tens of thousands of titles in stock, we as booksellers have to make some tough choices: there is simply not enough room to carry every book.  We have to decide which books are important, which ones might be popular, and throw in some titles (our personal favourites) that we figure no one can do without.  It’s a balancing act, and we hope you like what we’ve selected.  We like to see ourselves as tastemakers or guides, and so when we have the opportunity to introduce our customers to a brand new author, it’s especially gratifying.

I recently had the chance to add one such “discovery” to our selection, a young author named Elijah Teitelbaum whose bio gives a hint of the sensibilities of his work.  “He is often described as ‘weird (but in a good way)’, ‘tall-ish’, and ‘rather smart’.”  I hope that many more people will come to enjoy his work, available as Where the Dodo Went: A Collection of Short Stories and Poems.

A few words come to mind when reading Where the Dodo Went: surreal, whimsical, menacing, Brautigan.  Like Brautigan, Teitelbaum creates engaging, fantasy-tinged stories with touches of humour, but is often deadly-serious: important things are being addressed.  Archetypes are a recurring theme, as the stories include characters identified as “The Man”, “The Woman”, or “Lust”, “Greed”, and “Anger”. Subjects are as varied as an existential showdown with a new toaster, the struggle to accept reality, and an attempt to use terror to cover up a past wrong.  As the back cover puts it: “Within these pages the unreal intrudes upon the real and the ordinary is displayed in the shadow of the unbelievable.”

Where the Dodo Went introduces a fresh voice in Canadian fiction, one that I hope will receive the attention that he deserves, if only so that, years from now, I can proudly say “I knew him when…”