Irish poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin won the 2010 international Griffin Prize at a gala ceremony in Toronto on Thursday evening. Joining her was Saskatchewan born poet Karen Solie, named winner of the Canadian Griffin for her collection Pigeon.
Proclaiming her "total joy" with the event, Ms. Ní Chuilleanáin saluted her fellow finalists, saying, "I have never been in the company of such a group of people before." A fellow and professor of English at Trinity College, Dublin, Ms. Ní Chuilleanáin "is a truly imaginative poet," the Griffin judges said, "whose imagination is authoritative and transformative." She won for her collection The Sun-fish.
Swallowing tears, Ms. Solie echoed her colleague's appreciation for fellow poets gathered for the event, saying, "They make it possible to live, really.
"While [poetry]doesn't always make a living," she added, "it's a life."
The judges called Pigeon a collection of "poems as humorous, often, as they are sobering," adding that "once again, Solie shows that her ear is impeccable, her poetic intelligence rare and razor-sharp."
Ms. Solie was a finalist for the 2002 Griffin Prize and winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
The prize became one of the richest available in world literature this year when founder Scott Griffin, a Toronto businessman, announced a doubling of the purse to mark the 10th anniversary of the event. This evening's two winners will take home $75,000 each, with $10,000 going to each of the other five nominees. Although other literary prizes come with larger single awards, no program distributes more money to poets exclusively every year.
The purpose of doubling the purse this year wasn't to make the Griffin the top prize, its founder said at the time, but "to make a statement that poetry really is important."
This year's jury was made up of poets Anne Carson from Canada, Kathleen Jamie from Scotland and Carl Phillips from the United States. Each of them read almost 400 books submitted by publishers from 12 countries, according to David Young of the Griffin Trust.
Before last night's awards gala, the Griffin Trust staged a group reading of finalists that sold out 1,135-seat Koerner Hall. It honoured U.S. poet and essayist and feminist Adrienne Rich with its Lifetime Recognition Award at the same event.
Other finalists for this year's international prize included the cross-Channel partnership of England's Susan Wicks and Valérie Rouzeau of France, nominated for Cold Spring in Winter, Ms. Wicks' translation of a Rouzeau collection originally published in French. Ms. Rouzeau's "urgent, stammered lament" for her dead father "makes the surface of the language dissolve and reform constantly as if it were aghast at itself," the Griffin jury wrote, commending Ms. Wicks for a translation that matches the "linguistic risk and emotional force in Rouzeau's original."
Scottish poet John Glenday earned a nomination for Grain, his first volume in more than a decade and first ever to be published by a major firm (Picador). Working by day as an addiction counsellor, Mr. Glenday "writes slowly and out of necessity," the judges said, praising his highly crafted, earthy lyrics as "poems of understated integrity and humanity."
The only U.S. poet to make the Griffin short list this year, Louise Glück, is a veteran honoree, having already won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award for a body of work that comprises 11 volumes of poetry. Heralded as a departure for Ms. Glück, her nominated work is A Village Life, which uses novelistic techniques in what the judges called "a tour-de-force of imagination and artistry."
The first-ever posthumous nominee for The Griffin Prize, British Columbia's P.K. Page, earned her first Governor General's Award for poetry 56 years ago. Her final collection, Coal and Roses, uses an archaic form called the "glosa" to appropriate and elaborate the work of 21 other poets. The result is a "fully achieved project," the judges wrote, "a history of poetry, a kind of memoir and a homage from one nearing life's end, to her forebears and colleagues."
Montreal poet Kate Hall owns the freshest face among this year's seven finalists, nominated for her debut collection The Certainty Dream. Praised by Griffin judges for their un-Canadian lack of earnestness, Ms. Hall's "insistently idiosyncratic" poems are "at times disarmingly plainspoken, at others, singing with lyric possibility."