In June of this year, Billy-Ray Belcourt was awarded the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize for his work in This Wound is a World as the Canadian winner. Belcourt is of the Driftpile Cree Nation, which rests near Joussard, Alberta and hopes that his actions and writing reach and inspire other indigenous youth to take on
In June of this year, Billy-Ray Belcourt was awarded the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize for his work in This Wound is a World as the Canadian winner.
Belcourt is of the Driftpile Cree Nation, which rests near Joussard, Alberta and hopes that his actions and writing reach and inspire other indigenous youth to take on leadership and educational roles.
The prize offers $65,000 to authors of first edition books of poetry written in English and can be submitted from anywhere in the world.
But this Griffin Award follows just a few years after Belcourt was named the first indigenous person to receives a Rhodes Scholarship, which is awarded to 11 Canadian scholars each year and allows them to complete their post-grad work at the University of Oxford in England. The scholars are also chosen based upon their intellect, so Belcourt is among some of the brightest as he maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA average at the University of Alberta. The first person he called to tell of him earning the scholarship was his grandmother.
During his time in the U.K., he found himself experiencing subtle and sometime outright racism and these experiences prompted him to write the work. The judges citation for their selection of his work for the award reads:
“Blending the resources of love song and elegy, prayer and manifesto, Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound is a World shows us poetry at its most intimate and politically necessary. Mindful of tangled lineages and the lingering erasures of settler colonialism, Belcourt crafts poems in which “history lays itself bare” – but only as bare as their speaker’s shapeshifting heart. Belcourt pursues original forms with which to chart the constellations of queerness and indigeneity, rebellion and survival, desire and embodiedness these poems so fearlessly explore. Between its bold treatment of sexuality and wary anatomy of despair, This Wound is a World peels back the layers of feeling and experience to offer, finally, the glimmerings of hope – which only sometimes looks like escape: “follow me out the backdoor of the world”. This electrifying book reminds us that a poem may live twin lives as incantation and inscription, singing from the untamed margins: “grieve is the name i give to myself / i carve it into the bed frame. / i am make-believe. / this is an archive. / it hurts to be a story.”
His work is called part manifesto and part memoir and break barriers surrounding the understanding of how indigenous people shoulder pain, and reviews from those who have read it are nothing but positive.
The 62 page piece is available on Amazon in paperback.