Poetry is the essence of language, and language covers the full range of experience and emotion that distinguishes us as human beings. Poetry has been a form of nuanced and higher-level communication since the beginning of civilization.
While we may pay lip service to the importance of poetry throughout history, the tendency for most of us is to take its importance—in this technological age—for granted, fewer of us read it, purchase it, or recite it. Poets will always write poetry, but poetry needs an audience in order for it to survive as a central part of the mainstream in our cultural lives.
I have my father to thank for his enduring love of poetry. He used to read it to us children after dinner: Browning, Macaulay, Eliot, and others from a long list of his favourites. His passion developed my life-long love affair and concern for poetry, evolving into the Griffin Poetry Prize.
The objective of the prize is to raise the profile of poets and poetry in Canada, and internationally, for works written in, or translated into, English. To achieve this, we invite the shortlisted poets annually to Toronto for an event, which entails the poets reading their poetry to an audience of over a thousand poetry enthusiasts, and the presentation of prizes.
The Griffin Poetry Prize was founded in April 2000 by Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, David Young, and myself. The current trustees are: Mark Doty, Carolyn Forché, Scott Griffin, Sarah Howe, Paul Muldoon, Karen Solie, Aleš Šteger, and Ian Williams.
In November 2010, Scott Griffin announced a new Griffin Trust initiative called Poetry In Voice/Les voix de la poésie, a bilingual recitation contest for high school students across Canada.
The Griffin Trust has championed other initiatives since its inception, including a statue in tribute to poet Al Purdy, participation in international poetry festivals, and donations of poetry books to various organizations, including the Correctional Service of Canada, Scottish Poetry Library, Slave Lake Public Library (which was destroyed in a wildfire in 2011) and other libraries, schools and colleges.