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No obvious standouts on 2013 Griffin short list

Scott Griffin wants to make the prize as international as possible.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The best thing about the recently nominated group of poets competing for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize is that there are no obvious stars among them, according to prize patron Scott Griffin.

Likewise, Griffin saluted the fact that his own company, House of Anansi, failed to place an author on the short list this year despite its long-standing commitment to publishing Canadian poetry.

"It's really good, particularly on the Canadian side, that all the publishers are relatively small," Griffin said. "I think that is good for poetry and good for publishing. It means we have a kind of grassroots rebirth springing up here."

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Small houses "find different poets in the weeds," he added, "and that's where it happens."

With $130,000 in prize money at stake, divided equally between a Canadian and an international winner, the Griffin Prize is one of the richest in poetry. And it is fast becoming one of the most international, according to Griffin.

"We're trying to make this as international as possible and get away from the standard is from America, Canada and Great Britain." He said he was "particularly interested" in the work of Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, nominated for Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems, translated by Fady Joudah.

"Arabic is really the source of poetry," Griffin said. "Arabic is a language that basically is poetry, so it's very nice to have in the mix."

Also nominated to the international list is Australian poet Jennifer Maiden, represented by Liquid Nitrogen, a discovery described by Griffin judge Suzanne Buffam as possibly "the most contemporary collection of poetry you'll ever read."

Two Americans complete the international short list. Alan Shapiro's Night of the Republic is "an attempt to enter and diagnose a pervasive emptiness at the heart of contemporary American life," according to juror Mark Doty. Nominee Brenda Shaughnessy, author of Our Andromeda, is "a poet of breathtaking emotional depth," he wrote.

The three Canadians competing on the domestic bill are led by veteran David McFadden, whose What's the Score? is the 35th book he has published since he began writing poetry in 1956. "The easy, casual intimacy of these poems will befriend you on the first page," Buffam commented. "Their astonishing leaps and their genuine philosophical urgency will compel you to keep reading."

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Contrasting sharply is the debut collection from Ontario-born James Pollock, titled Sailing to Babylon, described by Doty as "an elegantly constructed set of meditations on place and history and the education of the self."

Personals by Brampton, Ont., poet Ian Williams inspired an appropriately poetic response in juror Wang Ping. "His words sing like brooks and streams through a virgin forest, laugh like waterfalls, startle and delight along the way with hidden eddies and boils," she wrote, adding "I can't help but dance like a happy puppet in the masterful hands."

The winner of the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize will be announced in Toronto June 13, following a group reading the evening before. In addition to the $130,000 shared by the winners, each participant in the reading will receive $10,000.

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