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Billy-Ray Belcourt, Aisha Sasha John, and Donato Mancini shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize

Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt (Courtesy of the Griffin Poetry Prize)

One day after being shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize, Billy-Ray Belcourt has been nominated for the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, the country’s richest prize for poetry.

Belcourt, an Indigenous poet who hails from the Driftpile Cree Nation, has been nominated for his collection This Wound Is a World (Frontenac House). A Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta, Belcourt was also a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and was enrolled in Women’s Studies at Oxford. In its citation, the Griffin jury writes, “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.”

Belcourt is joined on the Canadian shortlist by fellow nominees Aisha Sasha John, who was recognized for her second collection, I have to live (McClelland & Stewart), and Donato Mancini, nominated for his collection Same Diff (Talonbooks).

John, a multi-disciplinary artist who has also worked as a dancer and choreographer, holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. The jury praised John’s poetry for being “stripped of prettiness and polite convention” and went on: “John writes poems that are resistant to overwrought aesthetics, poems that have popular appeal yet are uninhibited by audience, poems whose casual demeanour belie their fight against casualty.”

The Griffin jury cited Same Diff for being “a monument to Mancini’s accomplishments.” The poet “crosses pre-existing texts with a strong design impulse to assemble a work of unusual beauty, resonance, and timelessness”; his work “fractures words to let out their yolk.” Mancini has published chapbooks and full-length works; he is also a visual artist and cultural critic. He has a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia.

The jury for the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize comprises British poet Sarah Howe; American poet and novelist Ben Lerner; and Canadian poet and short-story writer Ian Williams.

In addition to the Canadian trio, the jury also selected a four-person international shortlist. The contenders for the international prize, also worth $65,000, are: Tongo Eisen-Martin for Heaven is All Goodbyes (City Lights); Susan Howe for Debths (New Directions); Layli Long Soldier for Whereas (Graywolf Press); and Natalie Shapero for Hard Child (Copper Canyon Press).

Each shortlisted poet receives $10,000. The Canadian and international nominees will appear at Koerner Hall in Toronto to read on June 6; the winners will be announced on June 7.