Guyanese Canadian poet Kaie Kellough has won the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize for his book, Magnetic Equator. This prize – the largest in the English-speaking world – is awarded each year to two poets ( one Canadian and the other, international).
Kellough was born in British Columbia and now lives in Montreal. His maternal family is originally from Guyana and much of his poetry revolves around his Caribbean heritage and life experiences.
“This particular book is partly set in Guyana (in Georgetown and in the rainforest),” Kellough told the Caribbean Camera shortly after winning the Prize. “It is also set in Calgary, where I spent many of my formative years.”
”The book moves back and forth between north and south, Calgary and Georgetown, as it tries to answer some very fundamental questions that many of us ask: who am I and how did I get here?
” I’m very much interested in family history, and in the distinct cultures that came together in Guyana to produce my family. As for future work, I will absolutely continue to look to Guyana. I will also continue to look to the Caribbean diaspora in Canada.”
The Griffin Prize has a jury panel of three poetry experts. This year the judges were Ireland’s Paula Meehan, Jamaica’s Kei Miller and Toronto poet Hoa Nguyen.
In choosing Kellough’s book, they described it as one which “speaks to Caribbean and hemispheric migrations. The poems in Magnetic Equator recall trouble, hybridity, steep falls, continuance, and elaboration. ‘Our crossings of past, we depart / opposite, along the sentence that encircles the world’.
This year’ Griffin award for the best international poetry book, Time, goes to Sarah Riggs, translated from the French written by Etel Adnan. Riggs will also receive $65,000.
The shortlist finalists, including Chantel Gibson (author of How She Read) will be awarded $10,000 each.
Winning such a large purse puts Kellough in a unique authors’ club, which includes David Chariandy, Dionne Brand, Caniza Lubrin, Andre Alexis, and Ian Williams. These writers have recently won Canada’s top literary awards and all Caribbean Canadian authors.
“There are some remarkable young Caribbean-Canadian writers coming up now. So the tradition continues. There is a deep commitment to thinking about our relationship to this country, but also our relationship to the Caribbean, which produced us, produced our parents, produced our recent ancestors,” said Kellough.
“There is a desire to challenge the inequalities and perceptions of this society. There is a sense of the richness of our stories and the need for them to be told, and a sense of the impact these stories can have on this culture. We are also in conversation with one another across generations, experiences, identities, provinces, and islands.”
In addition to Magnetic Equator, Kellough is the author of the novels Dominoes at the Crossroads, and Accordéon, (finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award), two additional books of poetry, Lettricity and Maple Leaf Rag, and two albums, Vox: Versus and Creole Continuum.
Kellough is currently hunkered down in Montreal waiting out the virus. He says he has plans to visit Toronto this summer and perform at the Aga Khan museum with saxophonist Jason Sharp.
“But since so many cultural events have been cancelled well into the fall, I just hope I’ll be back before the year ends.”