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At 23, Billy-Ray Belcourt becomes youngest winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize

(l-r) Billy-Ray Belcourt, Scott Griffin, and Susan Howe. Belcourt won the Griffin Poetry Prize for his first book the same night that Howe won for her 33rd

Billy-Ray Belcourt, self-described “writer and academic and hopeless romantic,” won the Griffin Poetry Prize on June 7 for his debut collection, This Wound is a World (Frontenac House). At 23, the 2016 Rhodes Scholar from the Driftpile Cree Nation in Alberta is the youngest winner in the award’s 18-year history.

Eighty-year-old Boston-based poet Susan Howe won in the international category for her 33rd publication, Debths (New Directions). Howe and Belcourt each received a $65,000 prize.

The Lifetime Recognition Award was presented to Ana Blandiana, the acclaimed Romanian poet whose work opposing Communist oppression has elicited censorship from her country’s government.

The three poets who served as judges for the 2018 prize were Sarah Howe (U.K), Ben Lerner (U.S.), and Ian Williams (Canada). In their citation, the jury said, “Blending the resources of love song and elegy, prayer and manifesto, Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound is a World shows us poetry at its most intimate and politically necessary.”

The two Canadian finalists were Aisha Sasha John for I have to live (McClelland & Stewart) and Donato Mancini for Same Diff (Talonbooks). The international shortlisted collections were Tongo Eisen-Martin’s Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights), Layli Long Soldiers’s Whereas (Graywolf Press), and Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child (Copper Canyon Press).

More than 300 guests attended the gala, held at the Fermenting Cellar in Toronto’s Distillery District. In addition to prize founder Scott Griffin, guests included author Michael Ondaatje, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, and poet Dionne Brand.

The Griffin Poetry Prize is the world’s largest prize for poetry. Previous winners have included Don McKay, Dionne Brand, and the late David McFadden.