Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me: and Other Poems, by Ghassan Zaqtan, trans. Fady Joudah, has won this year’s international Griffin Poetry Prize:
The prestigious Griffin poetry prize is awarded annually in two categories — international and Canadian — and each winner receives C$65,000 in prize money. However, in the Zaqtan and Joudah’s case, the award is to be split between author and translator.
The Griffin’s 2013 Canadian winner was David McFadden for his collection What’s the Score?
Other books on the “international” shortlist were: Liquid Nitrogen by Jennifer Maiden, Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro, and Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy.
Straw Bird was the only translated work on the list. Indeed, this is the first collection translated from the Arabic to have won the Griffin. However, works translated from the Arabic have been on previous shortlists: in 2011, Khaled Mattawa and Adonis were on the shortlist for Mattawa’s translations in Adonis: Selected Poems, and in 2006, Elizabeth Winslow and Dunya Mikhail were on the shortlist for The War Works Hard.
Some 400 people gathered Thursday evening to see the prize awarded.
The book was published in 2012, and in the fall of last year, Zaqtan and Joudah toured the UK and US. An initial tour, scheduled for spring 2012, had to be curtailed when Zaqtan did not receive a visa from the US government. Zaqtan also briefly had visa trouble with the Canadian government as well, over permissions to attend the Griffin events, but that was resolved much more quickly.
Coverage in Canada’s National Post:
“This prize is important on a personal level,” said Zaqtan, speaking through Joudah. “But it is also a very important prize for Palestinian literature and poetry and Arabic poetry.”
“I feel the same way,” added Joudah. “I don’t think that Palestinian poetry has been recognized for the work that its done for world literature over the past sixty-plus years. I think it holds a very special place, and it needs to be looked at more closely.”
Statements of support for Zaqtan — ultimately not needed — from authors:
Views from Straw Bird events in Boston and Los Angeles:
By Ghada Mourad: ‘The Best Poems Are Not Political Poems, But — ‘
By Kristin Wagner: Fady Joudah on ‘Othering’ Himself to Translate Ghassan Zaqtan