An Rhode Island academic described as "America's most original daring and scary poet" won the 2009 Griffin Prize for international poetry at a ceremony in Toronto last night.
Rising, Falling, Hovering by C.D. Wright is a "work of harrowing power and genius," said jury chairman Michael Redhill.
Toronto poet A.F. Moritz won the prize awarded annually to a Canadian poet for his work The Sentinel. The annual prizes are each worth $50,000.
Ms. Wright's work "reminds us what poetry is for," the jury citation said. "This is poetry as white phosphorus, written with merciless love and depthless anger."
In accepting the prize, however, the poet was laconic, thanking the Griffin Trust for the best party in the world. "I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
Mr. Moritz made a special point of thanking his publisher, House of Anansi Press, owned by contest founder Scott Griffin. "These two days have been a wonderful time," he said. "Why don't we all get together and do it again next year."
Established in 2000 by Mr. Griffin and administered by an all-star roster of literary trustees, including Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, the Griffins are often described as among the richest and most prestigious poetry awards in the world. They are certainly unique in Canada, where reading and publishing poetry remain the most marginal of literary activities.
But as this year's jury remarked - each member having read 500 submitted books before deciding on a short list of seven finalists - the lack of readers has done little to suppress the flood of words. The prizes, awarded at a glamorous banquet featuring grilled veal tenderloin and plantain croquette, are more than enough to create a mini-boom in Canadian poetry.
Contemporary poets appear not to know that they live in an "era of dumbing down," according to Mr. Redhill, whose recent novel, Consolation, was long-listed for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. The jurors "were struck over and over by the continuing freshness of the art form and the level of invention, commitment and passion among its practitioners," he wrote in a preface to an anthology of the nominated work. After making the difficult selection from such a vast body of submissions, he wrote, "it is a host of the turned away that my heart aches for."
This year's short list did inspire some grumbling due to what appeared to be a narrow regional focus. All three of the short-listed Canadian poets live in Toronto and environs. Two of the volumes - Revolver by Kevin Connolly and Mr. Moritz's The Sentinel - were published by House of Anansi, a literary press Mr. Griffin bought out of bankruptcy in 2002 and has since transformed into what one British publisher called "the red hot centre of literary publishing in Canada."