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Friday, June 04, 2010

Solie Wins $65,000 Poetry Prize

TORONTO — A poet first discovered in an anthology published by BC press Harbour Publishing, a sponsor of Thorasbook, has won one of the world's most lucrative poetry prizes. Karen Solie was named the Canadian winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize at a gala ceremony in Toronto on Thursday night, eight years after first being nominated for the country’s most prestigious award for poetry.

The 43-year-old Solie was honoured for her collection Pigeon, published by House of Anansi Press. The other poets on the Canadian shortlist were Kate Hall of Montreal, who was nominated for her debut, The Certainty Dream, and the late P.K. Page, for Coal and Roses.

“I see so many people here whose work I have read and learned from and made it possible to live,” she said in accepting her award. “I feel very grateful that I have found something that, while it doesn’t always make a living, it’s a way to live.”

Born in Moose Jaw and raised on a farm in the southwestern Saskatchewan, not far from Medicine Hat, Solie was a relative latecomer to poetry. She spent three years reporting for the Lethbridge Herald before enrolling at the University of Lethbridge, and later pursued graduate work at the University of Victoria.

She burst onto the Canadian poetry scene in 1995, when her work appeared in Breathing Fire: Canada’s New Poets (Harbour), a landmark anthology edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane. “That was my first publication,” she told the National Post last month. “I thought there had to be some luck involved.” The book was published by Harbour Publishing

Solie — who lives in Toronto with her husband, fellow poet David Seymour — didn’t have much chance of winning the first time she was nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize. In 2002, her debut collection, Short Haul Engine, was up against Governor General Award-winner Eirin Moure and ultimately lost to Christian Bok’s Eunoia, one of the most successful poetry collections of the past decade.

Speaking minutes after she was declared the winner, Solie admitted she never thought she’d be back in the same position: “For one thing, it was so extraordinary, that whole thing. I really felt and appreciated it as a once-in-lifetime thing, for this to happen, and to have it happen again totally melts my brain.

“But I don’t think anybody ever writes or paints or designs buildings with a goal of being nominated for a prize. I don’t think that ever happens. It’s kinda of useless to the process of making anything. So when this kind of thing comes along, it’s encouraging and it’s spectacular.”

Solie was also a judge for the 2007 prizes, which went to Charles Wright and Don McKay.

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain was awarded the international prize for her collection The Sun-fish (published by the Gallery Press). An associate professor of English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, she is the author of several previous books of poetry and an editor and publisher of Cyphers, one of Ireland’s most long-standing literary magazines.

The other finalists on the international shortlist were the American poet Louise Gluck (A Village Life), Scotland’s John Glenday (Grain) and Susan Wicks and Valerie Rouzeau for Wicks’ translation of Rouzeau’s collection Cold Spring in Winter.

A jury consisting of Canadian poet and past Griffin Prize winner Anne Carson, Scottish poet (and past Griffin Prize nominee) Kathleen Jamie, and American poet Carl Phillips chose the winners. The judges read close to 400 books of poetry from 12 countries around the world before settling on this year’s shortlist.

Solie and Ni Chuilleanain each receive $65,000 for winning the Griffin Prize. Earlier this year, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry doubled the prize money to $200,000. All finalists received $10,000 at the Griffin Poetry Prize readings on Wednesday night, therefore Solie and Ni Chuilleanain take home $75,000 in total.

At the readings, “the doyenne of North American poetry,” Adrienne Rich, was given the Lifetime Recognition Award, which has previously gone to Robin Blaser, Tomas Transtromer, Ko Un, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Griffin Poetry Prize, which was founded in 2000 by industrialist and philanthropist Scott Griffin, who is the chairman of the Trust.

The idea for the prize grew out of a dinner he had with Michael Ondaatje and David Young, who both serves as trustees.

The prize is one of the most lucrative in the world, and one of the most respected.

The Griffin Poetry Prize is awarded annually to two books of poetry, including translations, published in English the previous year. Past International winners include Paul Muldoon (2003), Charles Simic (2005), John Ashbery (2008) and C. D. Wright, who won last year, while past Canadian winners include Christian Bok (2002), Margaret Avison (2003), Roo Borson (2005) and A.F. Moritz, who won in 2009 for The Sentinel.

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