UTM alumnus and former TA Ian Williams paid a visit to Professor Wood’s poetry class on October 15. This year, Williams was shortlisted for Canada’s Griffin Poetry Prize.
The annually awarded Griffin Poetry Prize is Canada’s most well-known poetry prize. Publishers are invited to submit applications for the best collection of poetry, and two poets are selected to win $65,000 each. Each shortlisted writer wins $10,000 and performs at the annual Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Readings in Toronto. This prestigious prize is awarded in two categories, international and Canadian, by the Griffin Trust. Canadian writers such as Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje sit on the board of trustees and select the judges for the prize annually.
“It’s a great time to be a Canadian poet,” Brampton-bred Williams said on being selected as a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Williams’ first contact with poetry came in the form of his mother’s poetry anthologies as a child. Reading Sylvia Plath and other famous poets in these collections, Williams grew to enjoy their poetry’s beauty and creativity. His experience with poetry increased in middle school when, in a gifted class, his teacher gave the students freedom to do as they wished and Williams used this time to write poems. Williams continued to write poetry throughout high school. He had originally planned to be a doctor when he came to UTM, but a year later, he decided the medical path wasn’t for him and continued as an English major, which lead to a doctorate, teaching in the U.S., and becoming an English TA at UTM.
Speaking in Professor Wood’s poetry class, Williams encouraged students to follow their passions. “What is a dominant emotion for our age?” Williams asked, saying that poetry should reflect the period it’s written in. The class responded with “anxiety”, “fear”, and “materialistic hunger”, while Williams focused on an attachment to technology, proceeding to read a few poems from his Griffin Prize collection, Personals. The “almost love poems” of Personals describe people of 2013 with a desire to connect to each other that is never fulfilled. Williams’ use of pop culture references and everyday items such as debit card machines and Microsoft Office allows modern readers to relate to and understand his poetry.
Williams advocates randomness, openness, and pleasure when reading poetry, instead of logic and sequence. But there is a time to write, he says, and recommends focussing on writing as many poems as possible in the hopes of yielding a few gems.