Liz Howard achieved two firsts at last night’s Griffin Poetry Prize ceremony, which took place in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. The 30-year-old poet, who won the $65,000 Canadian award for her collection Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (McClelland & Stewart), is the youngest recipient ever of the lucrative prize. It also marked the first time a debut collection has been singled out for the Griffin.
“My upbringing was quite difficult and impoverished, and when I was young I sort of thought that perhaps it would be best to not exist,” said Howard – who grew up in the small Ontario town of Chapleau – during her emotional acceptance speech. “I guess I just want to say that it can get better. And for me, poetry made life possible.”
Juror Tracy K. Smith praised Howard’s work, saying, ‘This bold debut collection assures me that Howard’s work as a poet – perhaps the work of any poet – is to have at the real: the messy, the befuddling matter of being and staying human.”
Smith, along with fellow jurors Adam Sol and Alice Oswald, considered 633 titles from more than 40 countries. The other Canadian finalists, each of whom received $10,000 for participating in public readings on June 1, were Ulrikka S. Gernes (Per Brask and Patrick Friesen, trans.) for Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick Books) and Soraya Peerbaye for Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar Press).
Norman Dubie, who was unable to attend the event, was named the international winner for his collection, The Quotations of Bone (Copper Canyon Press). The other international nominees were Joy Harjo for Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W.W. Norton & Company); Don Paterson for 40 Sonnets (Faber and Faber); and Rowan Ricardo Phillips for Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Adam Zagajewski received the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s 2016 Lifetime Recognition Award.
During his opening remarks, prize founder Scott Griffin acknowledged the deaths of several notable figures in the poetry community, including M&S editor and publisher Ellen Seligman, whom he credited for publishing the most Griffin Prize winners.