British Columbia icon Susan Musgrave is one of the five poets shortlisted for the 2023 edition of the Griffin Poetry Prize.
The Haidi Gwaii-based writer has been recognized for her collection Exculpatory Lilies, in which she explores life, death, addiction, marriage, overwhelming grief, and the emotions brought on by the often complicated act of existing on planet Earth.
Judges described the work as follows: “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.”
Others shortlisted for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize, where the winner will receive $130,000, are U.S.-based poets Ada Limon (The Hurting Kind), Roger Reeves (Best Barbarian), and Vietnamese-American Ocean Vuong (Time Is a Mother). Rounding out the nominated is American Robyn Cresell, whose The Threshold translates the written-in-Arabic work of Iman Mersal.
The $130,000 grand prize is the largest in the world for a single collection of poetry, with others shortlisted receiving $10,000 each.
Over 600 books of poetry from 20 different countries were submitted for the 2023 edition of the annual prize, with the winner to be revealed at the Griffin Poetry Prize Readings at Toronto’s Koerner Hall on June 7.
One of the province’s most prolific and respected talents, Musgrave has spent the past four decades living on Haida Gwaii, which she likes to refer to as the “Shining Islands”. When not writing she’s busy running the Copper Beech Guest House in Masset, that particular adventure inspiring her 2015 cookbook A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World.
Here is Musgraves’s poem “Hunger” from Exculpatory Lilies.
When I go to the river with my trouble,
and sit under the big trees, I see my girl again.
Her dress is the colour of soft butter.
Her hunger tastes of whiskey and rain.
Behind us is darkness, and darkness lies ahead.
The worst kind of pain is to miss someone
you’ve never known, and worse, never will.
The emptiest days are loveliest; only
people with desires can be fooled,
and I have none.
Copyright © 2022 by Susan Musgrave, Exculpatory Lilies, McClelland & Stewart