Honor roll: Griffin Poetry Prize – Canadian

Each of these books has been nominated for a Griffin Poetry Prize – Canadian. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:Men in the Off Hours

Men in the Off Hours

Anne Carson

Following her widely acclaimed Autobiography of Red (“A spellbinding achievement” —Susan Sontag), a new collection of poetry and prose that displays Anne Carson’s signature mixture of opposites—the classic and the modern, cinema and print, narrative and verse.

In Men in the Off Hours, Carson reinvents figures as diverse as Oedipus, Emily Dickinson, and Audubon. She views the writings of Sappho, St. Augustine, and Catullus through a modern lens. She sets up startling juxtapositions (Lazarus among video paraphernalia; Virginia Woolf and Thucydides discussing war). And in a final prose poem, she meditates on the recent death of her mother.

With its quiet, acute spirituality, its fearless wit and sensuality, and its joyful understanding that “the fact of the matter for humans is imperfection,” Men in the Off Hours shows us “the most exciting poet writing in English today” (Michael Ondaatje) at her best.

Book:Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida

Short Journey Upriver Toward Ōishida: Poems

Roo Borson

In Roo Borson’s new watershed collection, it is as though language were being taught to increase its powers of concentration, to hearken simultaneously to the fully impinged-upon senses, the reflecting mind with its griefs and yearnings, the heart with its burden of live memory. Always “the line bends as the river bends,” a quick ever-adjusting music that carries in its current those cherished, perishable, details of eye and ear, mid-life reflections on loss and home, the subtle shifts in season suddenly made strange and re-awakened. Recurrently, probingly, the line returns to the place of poetry in our lives. In the spirit of Basho’s famous journey to the far north, Borson’s “short journey” reminds us of the role of poetry in shaping and deepening our engagement with the world.

Book:Killdeer (Phil Hall)

Killdeer

Phil Hall

These are poems of critical thought that have been influenced by old fiddle tunes. These are essays that are not out to persuade so much as ruminate, invite, accrue. Hall is a surruralist (rural and surreal), and a terroir-ist (township-specific regionalist). He offers memories of, and homages to—Margaret Laurence, Bronwen Wallace, Libby Scheier, and Daniel Jones, among others. He writes of the embarrassing process of becoming a poet, and of his push-pull relationship with the whole concept of home. His notorious 2004 chapbook essay “The Bad Sequence” is also included here, for a wider readership, at last. It has been revised. (Its teeth have been sharpened.) In this book, the line is the unit of composition; the reading is wide; the perspective personal: each take a give, and logic a drawback. In Fred Wah’s phrase, what is offered here is “the music at the heart of thinking.”

Book:Another Gravity

Another Gravity: Poems

Don McKay

This book, Don McKay’s ninth collection, practises “the dark art of reflection”—which, as one of the poems tells us, whether boldly or capriciously, could not have existed without the moon—as it moves ever more deeply into ideas of home.

Book:Sailing to Babylon: Poems

Sailing to Babylon: Poems

James Pollock

Sailing to Babylon is the first full-length collection from James Pollock. These are poems of exploration and discovery of the self and the universal. Closer to home, there is the schoolboy fascination with the English teacher; the grandmother’s old Bible; a Dantean-style extended account of a hiking adventure with a young son, fully realized in terza rima. Further out in time and geography, Pollock muses on figures from Canadian history—explorers Henry Hudson, David Thompson, and John Franklin; pioneering literary theorist Northrop Frye; and pianist Glenn Gould. Each of these quests has accompanying trials or triumphs. This is a collection full of surprises and pleasures, with a treasure-chest mapped for discovery in “an image of the world/ made small enough to hold inside the mind.” A book that has the power to take you “to the place/ exactly where you always meant to go.”

Book:What's the Score?: 99 Poems

What's the Score?: 99 Poems

David W. McFadden

The often outrageous and always wise follow-up to 2008’s Governor General’s Award–nominated Be Calm, Honey shows David W. McFadden at his most inquisitive and provocative. Here you’ll find ninety-nine poems full of surprises by a Canadian long-distance poet in his sixth decade of writing, a writer who never rests on his laurels or allows himself to become complacent. This is a book full of mystics and Golden Age movie stars, friends of McFadden and long-dead philosophers, and their tales are all told in the poet’s deceptively plainspoken voice.

Book:Methodist Hatchet

Methodist Hatchet: Poems

Ken Babstock

Marooned in the shiftless, unnamed space between a map of the world and a world of false maps, Ken Babstock’s poems cling to what’s necessary from each, while attempting to sing their own bewilderment. Methodist Hatchet sets the currencies of living, thinking, and writing on a level plain. The symbolic currencies of natural and engineered worlds — the monetary, cultural, intellectual, and experiential — mimic, dog, and evade each other in a brilliant play of contingency and consequence. Even the poem itself — the idea of a poem — as a unit of understanding is shadowed by a great unknowing. Fearless in its language, its trajectories, and its frames of reference, Babstock’s fourth collection gazes upon the objects of its attention until they rattle, and exude their auras of strangeness. It is this strangeness, this mysterious stillness, that is the heart of Babstock’s playful, fierce, intelligent book. Methodist Hatchet is an exhilarating new work from one of our most celebrated poets.

Book:Ossuaries: Poems

Ossuaries: Poems

Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand’s hypnotic, urgent long poem—her first book of poetry in four years, is about the bones of fading cultures and ideas, about the living museums of spectacle where these bones are found. At the centre of Ossuaries is the narrative of Yasmine, a woman living an underground life, fleeing from past actions and regrets, in a perpetual state of movement. She leads a solitary clandestine life, crossing borders actual (Algiers, Cuba, Canada), and timeless. Cold-eyed and cynical, she contemplates the periodic crises of the contemporary world. This is a work of deep engagement, sensuality, and ultimate craft from an essential observer of our time and one of the most accomplished poets writing today.

Book:Pigeon (Karen Solie)

Pigeon

Karen Solie

Launched to prominence with her first collection of poems, Karen Solie continued her upward trajectory with Modern and Normal. Now, with Pigeon, this singer of existential bewilderment takes another step forward. She finds an analog for the divine in a massive, new model tractor and an analogue for the malign in the face of the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez. Her poems are X-rays of delusions and mistaken perceptions, intellectual explorations of bad luck, creeping catastrophe, and the eros of danger come dressed to kill. Her ear is impeccable and her syntax the key to a rare, razor-sharp poetic intelligence.

Pigeon expands Solie’s growing readership, making clear to anyone who encounters her that there is still fresh, unmapped territory in the world of poetry. As poet Michael Hofmann said, “Solie’s work should be read wherever English is read.”

Book:The Sentinel: Poems

The Sentinel: Poems

A.F. Moritz

John Ashbery’s esteem for A. F. Moritz has been seconded repeatedly by critics and readers. Starting in 1975 with Here and continuing through the years to Moritz’s latest, The Sentinel, this poet has carved an important career in poetry. This new collection has already begun garnering praise and awards: the title poem was honored by the prestigious Poetry magazine. These poems, exploring everything from vanishing civilizations to nature’s mysteries, display Moritz’s intelligence and insight blended with a supple craft and wordplay that have made his work unique in the field.

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