Kaie Kellough wins $65K Griffin Poetry Prize for ‘Magnetic Equator’

Kaie Kellough wins $65K Griffin Poetry Prize for ‘Magnetic Equator’

TORONTO — Kaie Kellough was returning home from a walk around Montreal when his phone lit up with a tweet congratulating him on being the Canadian winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most ceremonious way to find out he’d received the $65,000 honour for “Magnetic Equator,” but Kellough says there were upsides to Tuesday’s virtual awards announcement.

“To be nominated for a prize like this, it becomes very personal,” Kellough said by phone.

“When you’re on display at the same time, that sort of adds to the anxiety, so it’s actually kind of nice. It takes the edge off.”

The Griffin typically fetes two winners — one Canadian, another international — at a swanky Toronto soiree attended by a who’s who of Canada’s cultural scene. But this year’s gala and readings were cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, the 2020 honourees were revealed in an online video Tuesday morning.

The international prize went to Sarah Riggs’ translation of “Time,” written in French by Beirut-born Etel Adnan. The translator gets 60 per cent of the $65,000 cash prize, and the poet receives a 40 per cent share.

Published by McClelland & Stewart, “Magnetic Equator” maps the shifting migrations across North and South America with visually innovative poems that traverse the page.

In their citation, jurors said Kellough’s work ”negotiates survival and revolt as it moves with the surety and complexity of improvisation and collaboration.”

The book was also shortlisted for the 2019 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry.

Born in Vancouver and raised in Calgary, Kellough moved to Montreal in 1998. He maintains a strong connection to the Caribbean, with roots in Guyana.

The author, poet and sound artist has performed and been published across the globe.

His novels include 2016’s “Accordeon,” which was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and this year’s “Dominoes at the Crossroads.”

The 44-year-old has also penned two previous books of poetry, “Lettricity” and “Maple Leaf Rag,” and recorded two albums, “Vox:Versus” and “Creole Continuum.”

Across media, Kellough said he’s interested in using language to find new ways to represent the diasporic experience.

“When you exist between cultures … you’re here, but you’re always also elsewhere,” Kellough said. “That sense of cultural fluidity is explored throughout.”

The other Canadian contenders on the Griffin short list were Chantal Gibson’s ”How She Read” and Doyali Islam’s “heft.”

In an interview ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, prize founder and chairman Scott Griffin said the Canadian finalists are a testament to how the country is on the “leading edge” of experimental poetry.

“They’ve pushed the envelope on this one,” he said. “They have used the fonts and the layout of the page as part of the poem, and each one has done that in a different way.”

Kellough said he plans to celebrate his win in a similar manner to how he learned about it: with a stroll through Montreal, as his phone blows up with virtual commendations.

“I’ll celebrate by trying to pry my phone out of my fingers.”

The international runners-up were: “How to Dress a Fish” by Colorado-based Abigail Chabitnoy; “Arias” by New York-based Sharon Olds; “Lima :: Limon” by Natalie Scenters-Zapico, who grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Each finalist will take home $10,000.

Organizers say judges Paula Meehan of Ireland, Jamaican poet Kei Miller and Canada’s Hoa Nguyen each read 572 books of poetry from 14 countries to select the 2020 short list.

The Griffin is billed as the world’s largest prize for a first-edition single collection of poetry written in or translated into English.

The Griffin Trust was founded in 2000 by Scott Griffin, along with trustees Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson and David Young.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

robbery
UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey. Photo Submitted
Rimbey hotel gets new lease on life

The Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey is now open and taking bookings

Leanne Evans, Rimbey Neighbourhood Place Program Coordinator, accepts a donation of $5,000 from Kevin Maxwell manager of Field Support for Telus. (Photo Submitted)
Rimbey Neighbourhood Place making big changes behind the scenes

Rimbey Neighbourhood Place recently recieved a $5,000 donation from Telus

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier tests negative for COVID-19 but will isolate for a week

Kenney said he will isolate until Oct. 29 and, in the meantime, work from home

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

ACC President and CEO Ken Kobly spoke to Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Oct. 20. (Image: screenshot)
Alberta chambers are ‘411’ to members, government: ACC president

Changes to government supports, second wave and snap election

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. Advisers are reportedly recommending Alberta's kindergarten to Grade 4 arts and social studies curriculum remove all references to residential schools because it's "too sad" for young children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Advisers suggest Alberta students not learn about residential schools before Grade 4

Documents suggest children younger than Grade 4 are too emotionally vulnerable to learn about residential schools

Most Read