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Griffin Prize announces short list and bigger purse

Canadian poetry's most generous patron celebrated the 10th anniversary of fiscal abundance in an overlooked art by doubling the prize money he distributes annually through the Griffin Poetry Prize, creating a combined purse of $200,000 for Canadian and international poets.

The move is "a real statement" intended to boost the profile of the Griffin Prize and its cause internationally, according to its founder, Toronto businessman Scott Griffin. Although other international literary competitions open to poets award richer first prizes - the U.S.-based Lannan Literary Award for poetry is worth $150,000 to winners - there are none that distribute as much money every year solely to poets.

"It wasn't so much to be the top prize in the world as to make a statement that poetry really is important," Griffin explained.

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The announcement came at a news conference introducing the short list of seven nominees for the 2010 program, each of whom will now receive $10,000. The winners of the two prizes on offer (one awarded to a Canadian, the other to an international poet) will now each take home a total of $75,000, up from $50,000 in years past.

The rules governing the prize allow a Canadian poet to win both, according to Griffin, making a single award of $150,000 technically possible.

That won't happen this year, according to the short list announced yesterday, which was otherwise notable for including the competition's first posthumous nomination. Coal and Roses was P.K. Page's last book, published a few months before the poet's death last year at the age of 93. "Wholly unusual and possibly unique," according to the Griffin jury, the collection proves that "creativity, zest and curiosity can endure, even flourish into great old age."

Living Canadian nominees include Saskatchewan native Karen Solie, author of Pigeon, and Montreal's Kate Hall for The Certainty Dream. "A singer of existential bewilderment," according to the jury, Solie is a two-time nominee whose first collection, Short Haul Engine, was short-listed for the 2002 Griffin and won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Hall's "bracingly immediate, insistently idiosyncratic" book is the first collection of her poems to be published.

This year's international nominees come from five different countries, led by Louise Glück, who appears to have won every other prize available to a U.S. poet. Glück's short-listed book, A Village Life, is "a tour-de-force of imagination and artistry," according to the jury.

Other international nominees include Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin of Ireland, author of The Sun-fish; Scotland's John Glenday for Grain; and English poet Susan Wicks, nominated along with Valérie Rouzeau of France for her translation of the latter's collection, Cold Spring in Winter.

The three-person jury for this year's contest consumed more than 400 books from 12 countries before deciding the short lists, according to David Young of the Griffin Trust. The awards will be announced June 3 in Toronto, with a group reading to take place the evening before at Koerner Hall.

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