April is, with apologies to T.S. Eliot, the busiest month, at least for Orono poet Jeramy Dodds. It’s National Poetry Month after all, and Dodds has garnered not one, but two, nominations for national poetry prizes, with his book of poems, Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House Books). After quietly working on the collection for seven years, Dodds received strong praise but modest fanfare when the book was published last October. However, this month — with the publishing industry’s spotlight focussed on poetry — Dodds has found himself at centre stage.
“There has been quite a bit of attention,” he said by phone from Fredericton, where he is just wrapping up a semester of teaching creative writing at the University of New Brunswick. He was, in fact, busy at the University when word came of his nomination for the Griffin Poetry Prize. “I was at school marking assignments,” he said. “I wasn’t at home. My partner, Brecken Hancock told me. She took the call, and then phoned me.”
That call came on April 7th, when Scott Griffin, founder of the Griffin Trust for Excellency in Poetry, announced the finalists for the prize of $50,000 each for the best international and best Canadian book of poetry published in English. Dodds was one of three poets shortlisted for the Canadian prize, along with Kevin Connolly and A.F. Moritz, both of Toronto.
“It’s humbling to be on a list with both Kevin and Al” said Dodds. “I know them both and they’ve both been an influence on my work.” Connolly works as an editor at Coach House, where he edited Dodds’ book. “We’ve got a good friendship. It’s just a fun few days,” said Dodds, brushing aside any talk of rivalry. “And his book is incredible. I’m just happy to be on the shortlist. Whatever happens, happens.”
The announcement of the nominations gained national media attention due to the remunerative value of the prize, dubbed by Griffin as “one of the most lucrative poetry prizes in the world.” Both the Canadian and international finalists for the prize — chosen from 485 books of poetry received from 32 different countries — have been invited to read in Toronto at the MacMillan Theatre on Tuesday, June 2nd. The two winners will be announced on Wednesday, June 3rd, at the ninth annual Griffin Poetry Prize Awards evening.
The judges noted that Dodds’ work, his first published collection, evinced “deep intelligence and a serious commitment to craft.” Dodds said the nomination – made by a jury of fellow poets – means validation of his work. “It’s a big welcome into a community that I’ve been admiring for a long time,” he said.
Earlier, on April 1st, the League of Canadian Poets (LCP) announced that Dodds was among the six finalists for the 2009 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. The $1,000 prize recognizes the best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. The jury remarked that Dodds delivers “a performance that is unwaveringly fresh” in Crabwise to the Hounds. “This book is a gift, displaying an exultation and energy in the language rare as the vistas and beasts that inhabit its pages.” The winner will be announced at the annual LCP Poetry Fest and Conference in Vancouver, BC on June 13th.
Also this month, Dodds and fellow Coach House poet Matthew Tierney will be embarking on a promotional book tour across Western Canada, sponsored by VIA Rail. The tour, which begins this Sunday in Toronto, and includes scheduled stops in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Vancouver and at the Edmonton Poetry Festival, ends with the Ottawa International Writers Festival on April 30. Coach House plans to set up a blog for Dodds and Tierney so they can document their trip (details forthcoming from: www.chbooks.com).
Next April may be somewhat quieter for Dodds, as he will be afforded some time to focus on his writing. The Writers’ Trust of Canada announced earlier this year that he has been selected for a three-month residency at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat, the childhood home of the late Canadian author Pierre Berton. Dodds will be writer-in-residence at the retreat in Dawson City, Yukon from April to June, in 2010.