Canadian poets Susan Musgrave, Iman Mersal among finalists for revamped $130K Griffin Poetry Prize

Americans Ocean Vuong, Ada Limón also on the five-title shortlist. The prize is the biggest in the world for poetry. The winner will be announced on June 7 in Toronto.

The $130,000 prize is the biggest in the world for poetry

Canadian poets Susan Musgrave, left, and Iman Mersal are on the five-book shortlist for the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize.
Canadian poets Susan Musgrave, left, and Iman Mersal are on the five-book shortlist for the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize. (Dawna Mueller, Lesung & Gespr)

Works by B.C.-based poet Susan Musgrave and Alberta author Iman Mersal are among the five books shortlisted for the revamped Griffin Poetry Prize. 

The $130,000 prize currently stands as the world's largest international prize for a single book of poetry written in, or translated into English.

The annual prize previously awarded $65,000 to two works of English-language poetry from the previous year — one Canadian and one international.

Musgrave is on the shortlist for her collection Exculpatory Lilies, an exploration of love, loss and suffering. The poems examine grief, the natural world and the connection between the two, searching for the beauty in the emotional highs and lows of life.

Book cover.

Musgrave is one of Canada's most renowned poets and writers. She has received awards for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, personal essay, children's writing and for her work as an editor. She has published many books, including Love You More, More Blueberries and Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug. Musgrave won the 1996 CBC Literary Award for Poetry.

She lives on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, where she owns The Copper Beech House. Her experiences on Haida Gwaii inspired her cookbook A Taste of Haida Gwaii.

"The sheer humanity and gift to show our fragile, broken selves is nothing less than prayer, as spoken in Musgrave's Exculpatory Lilies. That she brings us to the sacred ground of loss and grief, and then lifts us toward our own humility is a ceremony. A ceremony wherein we must bow down our heads to the fragility of all we know, the darkness and light we all must carry," the jury said in a statement.

LISTEN | Susan Musgrave takes the Proust Questionnaire:
Susan Musgrave, the author of Exculpatory Lilies, answer's The Next Chapter's Proust questionnaire.

Mersal is shortlisted for The Threshold, translated from Arabic by New York City-based critic and editor Robyn Creswell. The Threshold, a collection of Mersal's past poetic work, is a meditation on feeling like "the outsider" and the trials of displacement and migration in literature and in life.

Book cover.

Mersal is the author of five books of poems and a collection of essays. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books, The Nation and other publications. Her most recent prose work, Traces of Enayat, received the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature in 2021.

She is a professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Alberta.

"The Threshold by Iman Mersal is a powerful collection of poetry that dissects the fluid architecture of identity, hidden memory and language. Mersal, an Egyptian Canadian poet and writer living in Edmonton weaves together personal experiences, cultural references and philosophical musings to create a vivid and eloquent poetic narrative," the jury said in a statement.

LISTEN | Iman Mersal discusses her work on Daybreak Alberta: 
It's national poetry month and we'l hear from Edmonton poet Iman Mersal who's fifth book of work has been nominated for a presitgious international prize.

The jury is comprised of Canadian poet Gregory Scofield, American poet Natasha Trethewey and Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov. They read 602 books, submitted by 229 publishers from 20 different countries. 

The other three shortlisted titles include: The Hurting Kind by Sonoma, Calif., poet and current U.S. poet laureate Ada Limón; Best Barbarian by Austin-based poet and academic Roger Reeves; and Time is a Mother by Vietnamese American poet and novelist Ocean Vuong.

The remaining shortlisted writers will each receive $10,000.

One other title with Canadian connections made this year's longlist: Greek Canadian translator Manolis Aligizakis for his translation of Tasos Livaditi: Poems, Volume II.

The change for the prize program was designed to emphasize the international nature of poetry, the importance of translations and the fact that previous Canadian winners such as Anne Carson, Robert Bringhurst and Karen Solie are names that are recognized all over the world, said Scott Griffin, founder of the prize, in an interview with CBC Books earlier this year.

The five-title shortlist for the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize.
The five-title shortlist for the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize. (Submitted by Griffin Poetry Prize)

The 2023 winner will be announced on June 7 at Koerner Hall in Toronto. The gala event will also feature readings from all the finalists before the big reveal.

In the event a winning book is a translation into English, the Griffin Poetry Prize will allocate 60 per cent of the prize to the translator and 40 per cent to the original poet. 

A new $10,000 prize will be awarded for a Canadian first book of poetry. The award is a six-week residency in Italy in partnership with the Civitella Ranieri Foundation to a Canadian citizen, or permanent resident, for a first book written in English. 

"The Griffin Poetry Prize has been acknowledging and encouraging poets for 22 years. At a time when censorship and attacks on a diverse array of writers are on the rise in many countries — including the United States — it's heartening to see such a strong vote of confidence in poets coming from Canada. Poetry is not a minor art form; it is the crucible of human language," said Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who is a founding trustee for the award, when the prize's changes were announced.

The recipient of a $25,000 lifetime recognition award will also be announced, bringing the total of the new prize fund to $205,000. 

The event will include a selection of readings by the five shortlisted poets, this year's Lifetime Recognition Award recipient, and the Canadian First Book Prize winner.

Last year's Canadian winner was Surrey, B.C.-based poet Tolu Oloruntoba for his collection The Junta of Happenstance. The international winner was American poet Douglas Kearney for Sho.

Other past Canadian winners include Billy-Ray Belcourt, Anne Carson, Roo Borson, Dionne Brand and Jordan Abel. 


  • This story has been updated to reflect that Haida Gwaii is an archipelago.
    Apr 19, 2023 11:31 AM ET

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