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Brand, Buffam, Steffler vie for 2011 Griffin Prize

The 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize pits two established Canadian poets against a relative newcomer.

McClelland & Stewart, the publisher with the most wins in the prize’s 11-year history, has two titles on the Canadian shortlist: Ossuaries by Governor General’s Literary Award winner Dionne Brand and Lookout by former Parliamentary poet laureate John Steffler. They’re up against The Irrationalist (House of Anansi Press), the second collection by Suzanne Buffam. Anansi, which published the two previous winners (Karen Solie and A.F. Moritz), could become the first publisher to win three consecutive Griffins.

The three Canadian nominees are vying for the $65,000 top prize, with each nominated poet receiving an additional $10,000. The judges for this year’s prize are Canadian poet Tim Lilburn, Irish author Colm Toíbín, and U.S. poet Chase Twichell.

Prize founder Scott Griffin emphasized the international scope of the prize at the shortlist announcement in Toronto Tuesday morning, noting this year’s 450 submissions “ up from around 400 last year “ came from 37 countries and were translated from more than 20 languages. The submissions included three poets from the Arab world.

Griffin said he was personally pleased the international shortlist includes Adonis, whom he described as probably the best living Arab poet. The Syrian poet is nominated for Adonis: Selected Poems (Yale University Press), translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa.

The international shortlist is rounded out by Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), U.S. poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s Heavenly Questions (FSG), and Belgian poet François Jacqmin’s The Book of the Snow (Arc Publications), translated from the French by Philip Mosley.

The winners of the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize will be announced at a gala event in Toronto on June 1. The announcement will be preceded by a reading from the shortlisted authors on May 31 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.