The Stairwell (Jonathan Cape) by Michael Longley and Blue Sonoma (Brick Books) by Jane Munro have won this year's Griffin Poetry Prize, it was announced last night in Toronto.
The International and Canadian winners each received C$65,000 (€46,000) in prize money. The prize, founded in 2000 to serve and encourage excellence in poetry, is for first edition books of poetry written in, or translated into, English and submitted from anywhere in the world.
In his acceptance speech, Longley said he had been writing since he was 15 years old. “It’s my life. It’s my religion. It’s the way I make sense of the world,” he said. The jury described Longley’s The Stairwell as “a book by a major poet writing at the height of his powers”.
Reviewing the collection for The Irish Times last August, John McAuliffe wrote: “Michael Longley’s readers will love the lyrical annotations of wild places and the quick articulate raids on the classics of his new collection, The Stairwell. Eight years and two collections after his Collected Poems ended by declaring, ‘I am writing too much about Carrigskeewaun’, he is still uncovering new reasons to return there.
“In Homeland he calls Co Mayo his ‘home-from-home-land’, and it is Mayo’s creatures and place names that recur as the scenes of poems that celebrate extended family and friends.”
Longley has won the Whitbread Poetry Award, the TS Eliot Prize and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.
Munro’s Blue Sonoma was inspired by her partner’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The judges called the book a “hauntingly candid” exploration “of the hard truths of growing old” and praised her “earthy voice, colloquial wit, and acute descriptive powers”.
“It’s very easy as a Canadian poet to feel invisible,” she said after her win, according to Toronoto’s Globe and Mail. “And all of a sudden to be bursting out of that cocoon of invisibility, to be visible, means that the poems are going to be there to give whatever they can give to more people.”
Derek Walcott was also honoured with The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s 2015 Lifetime Recognition Award. Scott Griffin, founder of the prize, and trustees Mark Doty, Carolyn Forché, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, Karen Solie, Colm Tóibín and David Young hosted the awards ceremony.
The judges – Timothy Bowling (Canada), Fanny Howe (US) and Piotr Sommer (Poland) – each read 560 collections from 42 countries.