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Canadians Susan Musgrave, Iman Mersal make revamped Griffin Poetry Prize short list

Two Canadians have made the Griffin Poetry Prize’s first short list since its categories for homegrown and international poets were combined into one global purse.
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Susan Musgrave is shown in a handout photo. Musgrave and Iman Mersal are the two Canadians who made the Griffin Poetry Prize’s first short list since its categories for homegrown and international poets were combined into one global purse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Griffin Poetry Prize

Two Canadians have made the Griffin Poetry Prize’s first short list since its categories for homegrown and international poets were combined into one global purse.

British Columbia-based writer Susan Musgrave is among the five nominees with “Exculpatory Lilies,” her first book of poetry in a decade, which delves into the emotional experience of losing both her husband and their daughter.

“The Threshold,” a collection of Egyptian-Canadian Iman Mersal’s poems translated from the original Arabic into English by Robyn Creswell, also made the list.

The Griffin used to award one Canadian and one international winner in two separate competitions worth $65,000 each. But last year, organizers said they would change the format to hand out a single $130,000 prize.

Translators receive 60 per cent of the prize if the winning book wasn’t originally written in English. Because Creswell is American, “The Threshold” would have previously qualified for the international prize, not the Canadian one, though Mersal is based in Alberta.

The other nominees this year are all American: Ocean Vuong for “Time Is a Mother,” Roger Reeves for “Best Barbarian” and Ada Limon for “The Hurting Kind.”

The shortlisted poets win $10,000 apiece.

When benefactor Scott Griffin announced last year that he was doing away with the Canada-specific category, some observers were concerned it could hurt the chances of homegrown poets to gain recognition.

Griffin dismissed those concerns, noting that he also added a $10,000 prize for a Canadian First Book of poetry.

Earlier this month, he added his name to the Writers’ Trust of Canada poetry prize, more than doubling its purse. The award, which goes to a mid-career poet, is now worth $60,000.

Griffin said he pictures the reconfigured Griffin Poetry Prize going to a “mature poet who’s well-known.”

A combination of well-established and up-and-coming poets were previously awarded the Griffin. The Canadian prize helped launch the careers of such rising stars as Billy-Ray Belcourt, Liz Howard and Tolu Oloruntoba, all of whom were recognized for their first collections.