Michael Wiegers, left to right, publisher of international winner Norman Dubie, businessman and philanthropist Scott Griffin and Canadian winner Liz Howard pose for a photo following the presentation of the Griffin Poetry Prize in Toronto Thursday June 2, 2016. HO-The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry-Tom Sandler "MANDATORY CREDIT"
Photo Credit: CP / The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry-Tom Sandler

Griffin Poetry Prize goes to Liz Howard

Liz Howard was honoured and celebrated last night in Toronto at the Griffin Poetry Prize Gala for her debut work, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent.


Howard took home the $65,000 (Cdn) prize, and along with the two other Canadian nominees, will have her book artfully bound. There are several “firsts” associated with Howard’s win: first debut collection to win, youngest writer to win, and first Canadian of Aboriginal heritage to win.

“A book had been brewing inside me”

“I sort of feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience,” Howard, 31, told the Globe and Mail’s Mark Medley, as she stood off-stage a few moments after the announcement. “It may seem really strange but I feel as though I actually died some time ago and [I’m] living in an afterlife.”

Poetry is alive and well with some of the best Canadian and international works nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Described on the website as “the world’s largest prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in English” ­ The goal is to “spark the public’s imagination and raise awareness of the crucial role poetry plays in our cultural life.”

Howard says poetry saved her. “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,” Howard revealed during her acceptance speech. “I guess I just want to say that it can get better. And for me, poetry made life possible.” 

Howard grew up in the small northern Ontario community of Chapleau and her experience and honesty will resonate deeply and with many young First Nations people in communities where sucide rates are soaring.

“infinite recombinatory potentials of language”

The title to her book, “Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent”, comes from a line in a poem she wrote about the shaking tent practice, a divinatory ritual practised by an Anishnabe shaman. Howard explains, despite her search for answers to deep questions in the committed study of science, she found the answers better expressed In the “infinite recombinatory potentials of language” with which she experienced a greater sense of fulfillment.

Howard also received $10,000 (Cdn) for taking part in the Griffin Prize readings on Wednesday, along with the other nominees for the Canadian prize. Soraya Peerbaye was selected for her book,”Tell: poems for a girlhood”, and Per Brask and Patrick Friesen for their translation of Danish poet Ulrikka S. Gernes’s “Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments”.

International Prize went to American Norman Dubie

Adam Sol, Tracy K. Smith, and Alice Oswald made up the jury this year, tasked with considering 633 books of poetry from more than 40 countries!  The International Prize went to American Norman Dubie for his work in “The Quotations of Bone”. The 71 year-old resident of Vermont was not in attendance.

Also this year the ceremony included a reading by Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, who is the recipient of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s 2016 Lifetime Recognition Award.

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