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McWhirter gets the Griffin Poetry Prize

June 06th, 2024

Vancouver’s first Poet Laureate, author and translator, George McWhirter sweeps the international Griffin Poetry Prize for his translation of Self-Portrait in the Zone of Silence (New Directions Publishing $23.89), originally written in Spanish by Mexican poet, Homero Aridjis. The international prize of $130,000 is shared by the translator and the original author. 60% of the prize, that is $78,000 is given to McWhirter and 40%, that is $52,000 is given to Aridjis. Each of the other finalists receive $10,000.

Aridjis, an eminent environmentalist and poet now in his eighties compiles a collection of imaginative poems that blurs the line between waking and dreaming, showcasing Aridjis’ connection to his muse in this book. His work combines mystical elements with vivid language, as seen in lines from his poem titled “Through The Green Door,” where he describes himself as an “illegal alien” of eternity.

Influenced by poets like Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca, Aridjis crosses secular boundaries with a mystical sensibility. His poems often merge chthonic, celestial, sensual and religious themes.

Aridjis’ style is characterized by surreal imagery and hyperbolic claims, creating an experience where everyday objects become tools for poetic expression. The book summarizes his life and art in a reflection on love and existence. Self-Portrait in the Zone of Silence offers a refreshing poetic experience, appealing to both poetry enthusiasts and casual readers, inviting them into Aridjis’ paradoxical “zone of silence.”

This is what the judges had to say about the book: “Self-Portrait in the Zone of Silence brings poet-translator George McWhirter’s adept English to the service of a great world-poet, Homero Aridjis. The book’s enchanting variety of tones and subjects expresses a rounded human being engaged with our total experience, from the familial to the political, from bodily sensations to dream, vision, philosophic thought, and history, from hope to foreboding. A keynote is the sense of a person speaking with us plainly and yet from kinship with a light that bathes, and springs from, each thing.”

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ABOUT THE AWARD

As of 2023, the prize is worth C$130,000, making it the world’s largest international prize for a single book of poetry written in, or translated into English. The other shortlisted poets each receive $10,000. Additionally, a new $10,000 prize is awarded for a Canadian First Book of poetry, along with 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. A Lifetime Recognition Award is awarded by the trustees in the sum of C$25,000.

One Response to “McWhirter gets the Griffin Poetry Prize”

  1. Cathalynn Labonte-Smith says:

    Congratulations, George! Well deserved.

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