Toronto poet Dionne Brand has won the Griffin Poetry Prize for her narrative poem Ossuaries.
Brand won the $65,000 prize — Canada's richest poetry prize and the world's largest prize for a single poetry collection in English — at a gala in downtown Toronto Wednesday night. Brand and each finalist also earned $10,000 for participating in the readings the night before the prize gala.
In her acceptance speech last night, Brand thanked all the poets who have inspired her, invoking the names of more than 20, ranging from Elizabeth Bishop and Milton Acorn to Keats, Shelley and Bob Marley.
"I wanted to thank some people on this little paper who kept me company through the time that I've been writing since I was 17 or so," she said, before reading the list of her favourite poets.
The win "means a great deal to me because it means that what I've been sort of doing in my room for any number of decades has found a kind of affinity somewhere," Brand said after the ceremony.
The judges' citiation said that Brand "has constructed a long poem, which is not a traditional seamless epic, nor a Poundian extended collage, but something else that seems quite new."
"Brand’s innovation on Ossuaries calls forth an entirely new sort of reading. The book is a triumph," the judges wrote.
In Ossuaries, a novel-length narrative poem, Brand tells the story of an activist named Yasmine who lives in exile and gets caught up in events such as a violent bank robbery.
"I made these ossuaries — these bone cabinets or bone boxes if you will where I wanted to put all of the toxicity of our society so we could kind of look past them," Brand said.
Brand won the Governor General's Award for her 1997 poetry collection Land to Light On and was named Toronto's poet laureate in 2009.
American poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg won the international prize, also worth $65,000, for Heavenly Questions.
She won in a field that included Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney and Syrian poet Adonis along with Francois Jacqmin of Belgium.
"I come from a far-off land I should say here. Poets are used to thinking of their work as 'love's labours lost' so we don't know what to say on occasions like this, except thank you," Schnackenberg said in her acceptance speech.
She thanked prize founder Scott Griffin for the "sense of fun" the award ceremony and readings brings to poetry.
This is the 11th year for the award, which honours one Canadian and one international poet.