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Strong international short list proof of Griffin Prize's growing clout, founder says

Enlgihs poet David Harsent is one of the four international finalists for the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prizes.

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Growing recognition of Canada's Griffin Poetry Prize as a major global award has led to one of the strongest international shortlists in the prize's history, founder Scott Griffin said Tuesday.

The $75,000 Griffin Poetry Prizes are awarded annually to one Canadian and one international poet. The four international finalists this year are published by major houses and have been nominated for, and won, some of the most prestigious poetry prizes in the world.

On the international short list are England's David Harsent for Night (Faber and Faber), American poet Yusef Komunyakaa for The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), British poet Sean O'Brien for November (Picador) and Poland's Tadeusz Rozewicz for Sobbing Superpower (W.W. Norton and Co.).

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O'Brien is a previous winner of the Forward and T.S. Eliot poetry prizes in Britain, while Harsent has been a finalist for the Whitbread Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Komunyakaa, meanwhile, is a past winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

"This year we had 44 new publishers [submitting work]" Griffin said. "That shows a real growth in the extension of the prize internationally."

The three Canadian finalists are Ken Babstock for The Methodist Hatchet (House of Anansi), Phil Hall for Killdeer (BookThug) and Jan Zwicky for Forge (Gaspereau Press), a short list Griffin called "very strong."

Killdeer won the 2011 Governor-General's Literary Award for Poetry.

Griffin attributed the prize's growing international clout partly to the huge cheques given to the winners. Each finalist is awarded $10,000, while the winners each receive an additional $65,000, for a grand total of $75,000.

By comparison, the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, one of the most coveted poetry prizes in the English language, takes home £15,000 ($23,800).

"Obviously, the prize money gets you into the game, but then it really is the quality of poets that start participating, and that really means something," Griffin said.

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"People don't really think of Canada as a literary community from the poets' point of view," he added, "but we're gaining all the time."

The finalists will read from their work in Toronto on June 6; the winners will be announced at a gala event the next night.

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