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Dionne Brand gets the Griffin

In handing out the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize, prize founder Scott Griffin spoke of the borderless quality of great poetry.

That sentiment was echoed by this year’s Canadian winner, Dionne Brand, who, in accepting the $65,000 prize, thanked a long, varied list of poets who had kept [her] company over her decades-long career, from Frederico García Lorca to Derek Walcott to Dorothy Livesay to Sappho.

They produced the kind of poetry that reached across all of our humanity, that reached across nation, reached across space, reached across time, so that I could sit with them in an apartment on Raglan Avenue [where she grew up in Toronto], Brand said afterward. I wanted to make work that did that, too.

Brand won for her collection Ossuaries, published by McClelland & Stewart, which juror Colm Toíbín described as “a long dream journey” and an “eloquent act of mourning and recovery.” The other shortlisted Canadian authors were veteran John Steffler for Lookout (M&S) and newcomer Suzanne Buffam for The Irrationalist (House of Anansi Press).

This is the fourth time a book from M&S has won the Griffin in the prize’s 11-year history, more than any other publisher. Brand, who has won numerous literary prizes for her fiction and poetry, including the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award, and the City of Toronto Book Award, had previously been nominated for the Griffin for her 2002 collection thirsty.

The international Griffin prize, also worth $75,000, was awarded to U.S. poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg for Heavenly Questions (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux). Schnackenberg, who was born in Tacoma, Washington, was up against Syrian poet Adonis’s Selected Poems (Yale University Press), translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa; French poet François Jacqmin’s The Book of Snow (Arc Publications), translated by Philip Mosley; and Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain (FSG).

In keeping with its growing international reach, this was the first year a book from the Arab world was nominated for the Griffin.