Canadian Ken Babstock and Briton David Harsent won the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize Thursday, taking home $65,000 each.
Harsent won for Night, a noirish collection of poems published by Faber and Faber set in the unsettling and uncertain world that exists after daylight hours.
Babstock won for Methodist Hatchet, a collection that grapples with contemporary life, published by House of Anansi Press.
The prizes – one to an international poet; the other to a Canadian – were established by businessman Scott Griffin in 2000 and are the most valuable poetry awards in Canada. Accepting his award at a dinner and presentation in Toronto's Distillery District, Babstock wiped tears from his eyes and thanked Griffin and all readers of poetry while Harsent saluted the philanthropist for "a good deed in a naughty world."
Afterwards both poets talked of their art as an instinctive reaction to daily life, and shrugged off its lack of prominence in contemporary culture.
"Poetry is a struggle to make sense of the world, from moment to moment, as opposed to other disciplines that try to make sense of the whole," Babstock said. "I don't know society should hold poetry in high regard, but I know it doesn't. Maybe it's okay that it occupies a quieter, smaller corner. I would shy away from the prescriptive."
Harsent quoted W.H. Auden saying poetry can't be played as background music. "Poetry has to be taken seriously, or let go," he said, calling his own writing "a way of life."
The ceremony also included a reading by Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney who was presented with the Griffin's lifetime achievement award Wednesday.