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Meet the finalists for the Griffin Poetry Prize

This year’s Canadian short list features Nisga’a writer and editor Jordan Abel, Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley and Toronto author Hoa Nguyen

The eight finalists for Canada’s Griffin Poetry Prize, one of the most lucrative and highly regarded awards of its kind, were announced on Tuesday.

The winners of the two prizes – which recognize the best books of poetry published in Canada and abroad – each receive $65,000.

This year’s Canadian short list includes Jordan Abel, a Nisga’a writer and editor currently pursuing a PhD at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He’s nominated for his third book of poetry, Injun, a project that investigates racism, colonialism and Indigenous communities through the use of text culled from 90-odd western novels published between the mid-19th and 20th centuries. In their citation, the jury described Injun as a collection that “evacuates the subtexts of possession, territory and erasure.”

Jordan Abel is nominated for his third book of poetry, Injun.

Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley, the author of three previous books of poetry, is nominated for her “potent and beguiling” collection, Silvija. The book is structured as a sequence of five elegies “that allude to and invoke trauma, shame and a profound sense of loss,” and explores issues ranging from physical abuse to terminal illness.

Also on the Canadian short list is Hoa Nguyen, who is nominated for Violet Energy Ingots, which the jury praised as “a fully mature work in that it is confident of both its voice and its readers’ alertness. It makes its own space. It demands it and holds it.” The author of several previous books of poetry, Nguyen was born in Vietnam, raised in Washington and currently lives in Toronto, where she teaches at Ryerson University.

Sandra Ridley is nominated for her “potent and beguiling” collection, Silvija.

Historically, a handful of publishers tend to dominate the Canadian short list – McClelland & Stewart, Brick Books, House of Anansi, Coach House Books – but, this year, all are absent. (The only other year this happened was 2013.) Instead, the short list features two presses appearing for the first time: Vancouver publisher Talonbooks, which published Abel’s collection and which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Wave Books, an independent poetry press based in Seattle, and Nguyen’s publisher. (Ridley’s collection is published by BookThug, the Toronto indie which had a title on the short list in 2012.)

The finalists for the International prize, meanwhile, are the American poet Jane Mead for her fifth collection, World of Made and Unmade; the renowned British poet Alice Oswald for her seventh collection, Falling Awake; the English philosopher and poet Denise Riley for Say Something Back; and Donald Nicholson-Smith for his translation of the French-Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laabi’s massive In Praise of Defeat, which the jury called a “landmark” work. (In the case of a winning translated work, the translator receives 60 per cent of the prize money, while the poet takes the rest.)

Hoa Nguyen is nominated for her work Violet Energy Ingots.

Before settling on the two short lists, this year’s jury – Canada’s Sue Goyette, the United States’ Joan Naviyuk Kane and Britain’s George Szirtes – read 617 books from 39 countries, including 23 works in translation.

The short-list readings will take place on June 7 at Koerner Hall in Toronto, while the winners will be announced at a gala ceremony the following evening. Every finalist who participates in the short-list readings receive $10,000, meaning winners of each prize can receive a total of $75,000.

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