A.F. Moritz wins 2009 Griffin Prize

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

24949574The perennially (some would say criminally) overlooked Toronto poet A.F. Moritz finally got his moment in the sun last night. Moritz picked up the 2009 Griffin Poetry Prize for his latest collection, The Sentinel. A jury consisting of Michael Redhill, Dennis O’Driscoll, and Saskia Hamilton chose Moritz’s book over the two other shortlisted volumes, Kevin Connolly’s Revolver and Jeramy Dodds’ Crabwise to the Hounds.

This year’s $50,000 prize honours a poet whose work is deceptively simple, employing straightforward language to capture aspects of the human condition that frequently elude more abstruse versifiers. Indeed, Moritz frequently rails against the kind of poetry that assumes a haughty position or adopts a condescending tone toward its readers. In “Arrogance,” for example, a faceless mass of urban denizens “easily recognized the reprehensible arrogance / of the poet vilifying ‘a whole population / that goes about its business and doesn’t know / it is no longer human.'” The poem’s subjects, by contrast, “valued common things,” and “acknowledged that to walk / at such times past the form lying against a wall, / wrapped with thick blankets despite torturing humidity, / shamed them and assured them they were alive.”

Writing in The Globe and Mail, James Adams quotes the Ohio-born poet as saying, “I am looking at poetry as a kind of affliction that separates you from the rest of people, yet one of those proud afflictions where you pin the insult to your flag and raise it high.” Indeed, the title poem in the prize-winning collection, about a nightwatchman guarding a camp perimeter, could easily be read as a metaphor for a poet’s function in the world: “The one who watches while the others sleep / does not see. It is hoped, it is to be hoped / there is nothing to see.”

Moritz sees: plainly and honestly. His poetry is steeped in the specifics of the physical world, in which a jar is “[n]ot a vase, not a piece of the potter’s art / but glass, from a store shelf.” He acknowledges “that the good part / of the word is wind, and the adequate part / an image.” Whether his subject is nature or a woman’s mastectomy or a pleasure yacht seen from a harbour pier, Moritz brings to his poetry a clear eye and a powerful empathy, traits that are liable to pass unnoticed in the cacophonous din of our post-postmodern world.

What more is there to say except, it’s about time.