News and Interviews

"The Grief of Death and the Ecstasy of Living" Roger Reeves Wins the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize

black banner image with Griffin Poetry Prize logo top left, Open Book logo bottom left, and photo of poet Roger Reeves on the right. Text on the left reads "Rogers Reeves wins the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize"

Last night in Toronto, American poet Roger Reeves won the Griffin Poetry Prize for his collection Best Barbarianpublished by W.W. Norton & Company. 

Reeves, who lives in Austin, Texas, will take home $130,000 for the award. He is the first poet to do so after the Griffin Foundation merged their long-standing Canadian and international prizes into a single prize open to any poet worldwide writing in, or translated into, English.

Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves

Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves

The remaining finalists, Iman Mersal, nominated for her collection The Threshold, and Robyn Creswell, who translated Mersal's book into English; Ada Limón, nominated for The Hurting Kind; Susan Musgrave, nominated for Exculpatory Lilies; and Ocean Vuong, nominated for his collection Time Is a Mother, will each receive $10,000.

Reeves is a highly decorated writer: a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and a 2015 Whiting Award, his work has appeared in prominent international publications including Poetry, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and others.

In our recent interview with the finalists, Reeves described his collection as being "about many things—grief, fatherhood, jazz, ecstasy, the ancientness of subjectivity, of our 'I' in poems... the collection also meditates upon the birth of my daughter and becoming a parent as my father is dying. I felt as if I were a door—somewhere between my daughter and my father. I was something that had to be passed through."

In summing up his experience of writing Best Barbarian, he said, "I returned over and over again to the grief of death and the ecstasy of living."

The jury, which included Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia), Gregory Scofield (Canada), and Natasha Trethewey (USA), said of Best Barbarian, "at the intersections of history and myth, elegy and celebration, these poems chart the ruptures and violences enacted across time and space—particularly against black humanity—while leaning always toward beauty."

The announcement of Reeves' win was made at the Griffin Poetry Prize Readings held in Toronto. The evening included a selection of readings by the six finalists, the 2023 Lifetime Recognition Award recipient Fanny Howe, and Emily Riddle, the Canadian First Book Prize winner, who read from her winning book The Big Melt. The Canadian First Book Prize is new this year and is awarded to a Canadian poet for a debut collection of poetry. 

We spoke to Scott Griffin, the founder and patron of the Griffin Foundation, about the Griffin Poetry Prize and its evolution earlier this year, where he explained "the trustees decided that the time had come to remove the division between Canadian and International categories... poetry should not be restricted by borders, whether those be geographical, societal, or language."

For more information about the Griffin Poetry Prize, Reeves, and the finalists, visit the Griffin website here.