The first-ever Griffin Poetry Prize was awarded in 2001. That was the same year, coincidentally, A Sudden Sky, a collection by Danish writer Ulrikka S. Gernes, was published in Canada.
Translated into English by poet and playwright Patrick Friesen and Per Brask, a professor in the department of theatre and film at the University of Winnipeg, it marked the second work in translation released by the London, Ont., poetry press Brick Books.
Last year, Brick Books published a second volume of Gernes's poems, once again translated by Friesen and Brask. On Tuesday, it was named a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize, which, in the 15 years since the inaugural award, has become one of the most significant prizes of its kind in the literary world.
Praised by the jury as "full of arresting detail and quiet everyday language," Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, published last fall, is the only book in translation among the seven finalists that make up the Canadian and International short lists.
Toronto poet Soraya Peerbaye is nominated for her second book, Tell: poems for a girlhood, a book-length exploration of the brutal 1997 murder of Reena Virk. In their citation, this year's jury – which includes British poet Alice Oswald, American poet Tracy K. Smith and Canada's Adam Sol – said that "Peerbaye's language becomes a vehicle not just for exploring what others in the world may be capable of, but also of drawing readers into excruciating proximity with our own adolescent longing, fear, shame and rage."
The third poet on the Canadian short list is Liz Howard, a research officer in cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, for her first book of poems, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, which the jury called "an ambitious debut collection [that] keeps us delightfully off-balance with its mix of lyricism and experiment, allusion and invention."
On the International front, celebrated Scottish poet Don Paterson – the only poet to have won the T.S. Eliot Prize more than once – leads the list of finalists; he is nominated for 40 Sonnets, which the jury called "a wonderful offering, patiently made."
The other three finalists all live in the United States: Norman Dubie for his 29th collection of poems, The Quotations of Bone, which the jury said shows his "uncontested mastery of the lyric poem;" Joy Harjo for Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, which the jury said "presents her at the height of her powers"; and Rowan Ricardo Phillips for his second collection, Heaven, which the jury called "poems of exquisite craft, rich allusion and nimble intelligence."
In total, this year's jury considered 633 books from 43 countries, including 25 works in translation.
Finalists who take part in the short list readings, at Koerner Hall in Toronto on June 1, receive $10,000; the winners of the Griffin Poetry Prize, who each receive $65,000, will be announced the following day.