Yusef Komunyakaa was given the Griffin Prize 2021 Lifetime Recognition Award on June 23, 2021.
The Griffin Poetry Prize is the world’s largest international prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in or translated into English. The Canadian-based prize was founded by businessman and philanthropist Scott Griffin in 2000. There are two geographical categories with one for a Canadian poet and one international poet who writes in the English language. Some previous winners have been Anne Carson, Nikolai Popov, and Kamau Brathwaite.
The Griffin Prize for 2021 was awarded to Canisia Lubrin for her poetry collection The Dyzgraphxst. The prize also gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to Yusef Komunyakaa “in honour of his extraordinary body of work spanning almost half a century.” Yusef Komunyakaa, a native of Bogalusa, Louisiana, served as a US Army correspondent in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. For his poetry he has been awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the William Faulkner Prize (Université de Rennes), the Poetry Society of America’s 2004 Shelley Memorial Award, and the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets.
The citation for the win also states;
“Komunyakaa’s body of work offers us a formidable reckoning with American history – history which the poet has, in many cases, lived through first-hand – from the racially segregated South of his boyhood, through his years reporting on the war in Vietnam, to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Komunyakaa’s poems on Vietnam remain among the most significant and singular documents to have been produced by an American in the wake of that conflict. At the same time, his books chart a path through the evolving politics of race in the US from the mid-twentieth century, showing us in vivid and economical strokes how ugly legacies of racist violence continue to reverberate today. Despite the weightiness of some of his subjects, Komunyakaa’s poems are also playful, irreverent, sometimes satirical, and unafraid of breaking taboos. His forms combine a virtuosic control with an air of the effortlessly improvisatory – a quality traceable perhaps to Komunyakaa’s lifelong devotion to jazz, whose rhythms and riffs many have detected beneath his poems’ own music. Alongside his early love of the Surrealists, jazz is there too in his flair for crafting metaphors that swerve off in unexpected directions, or in the thought-movement of poems unafraid of intuitive leaps into the unknown.”
Watch Sarah Howe interview Yusef Komunyakaa below;
You can read Last of the Monkey Gods a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa by clicking here.