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Carson, Michaels, Goyette among Griffin nominees

The Griffin Poetry Prize finalists were announced today, revealing a strong all-female Canadian shortlist that includes two McClelland & Stewart authors and a third from Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Press. Poet Jeramy Dodds, a finalist for the prize in 2009, presented the Canadian and international shortlists alongside prize founder Scott Griffin at a press conference in Toronto.

The Canadian shortlist is made up of Susan Goyette’s fourth collection, Ocean (Gaspereau); novelist and poet Anne Michaels’ Correspondences (M&S); and Anne Carson’s Red Doc> (M&S), the sequel to her 1998 poetic novel, Autobiography of Red. Goyette and Michaels are nominated for the first time, while Carson was the winner of the inaugural Griffin in 2001 for Men in the Off Hours.

Griffin himself says he is pleased with the shortlist. Particularly on the Canadian side, the finalists are very strong this year, he says. The presentation of these books is beautifully done, too.

M&S senior vice-president and publisher Ellen Seligman says she is absolutely thrilled with the two nominations and to be in the company of such an extraordinary list across the board. She adds that the nominations come on the heels of the press’s relaunch of its poetry program, which includes the appointment of a new poetry board comprised of Ken Babstock, Dionne Brand, and Kevin Connolly.

The timing of this shortlist is really wonderful, she says. The poetry relaunch is bringing a lot of attention to an already celebrated program, and I think this helps highlight that.

For his part, Gaspereau publisher Andrew Steeves is glad to see Goyette getting recognition for Ocean, the Halifax author’s first collection with the press.

I think you [work] with the people that understand what you’re trying to do, wherever they are, and it’s really special when they’re in your own neighbourhood, he says. For me, Sue is part of the day-to-day life of the region I live in and is a recognized and valuable contributing player in the literary life of the [East Coast].

Goyette’s nomination is the second for Gaspereau, following Jan Zwicky’s Griffin nod for Forge in 2011. The Griffin is the only one of the ˜G’ prizes we haven’t won yet, Steeves says, referring to the press’s 2001 Governor General’s Literary Award win for George Elliott Clarke’s Execution Poems and its 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize win for Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists.

Steeves says he isn’t worried about anything like a Griffin effect with the new nomination. Being on the shortlist, there’s not much of an impact to sales, he says. Winning is maybe a little better for sales “ maybe you’d sell 400 [additional] copies, but for a lot of poetry books that could double your sales.

He adds that Ocean is already in its second printing. Sue is out there all the time, just being a poet “ like George Elliott Clarke “ and that always helps to sell books, he says.

The shortlist for the international Griffin comprises Rachael Boast’s Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador), Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press), Carl Phillips’s Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Colonies (Zephyr Press), written in Polish by Tomasz Różycki and translated by Mira Rosenthal.

Of the eight writers who made the Canadian and international shortlists, women outnumber men six to two.

It’s interesting because I think 15 or 20 years ago it would have been the other way around, says Griffin. I don’t know whether you can read too much into it, because it just happens now that one year is stronger [with women] than another, but it goes to show that definitely poetry is not gender related.

A three-member jury comprising Robert Bringhurst, Jo Shapcott, and C.D. Wright selected the shortlists from 539 books from 40 countries. The winners will each be awarded $65,000, while the seven finalists will receive $10,000. The winners will be announced at a private event on June 5, following a reading by the shortlisted authors at Toronto’s Koerner Hall on June 4.