Winnipegger one of 5 writers to make 2021 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

From left: Mia Anderson, Lise Gaston, Adriana Oniță, Bola Opaleke and Alison Watt. (See individual pages for credit)

Five writers from across Canada have made the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist. 

The finalists are:

The winner will be announced on Nov. 24. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and will have the opportunity to attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

The remaining four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.

All five finalists had their work published on CBC Books. You can read their poems by clicking on the links above.

This year’s finalists were selected by a jury comprised of Louise Bernice Halfe, Canisia Lubrin and Steven Heighton. They will also select the winner.

The finalists were chosen from a longlist of 32 worksA team of writers and editors from across Canada compiled the longlist. The longlist was selected from almost 3,000 English-language submissions.

The shortlist for the French-language competition has also been revealed. To read more, go to the Prix de poésie Radio-Canada 2021.

Last year’s winner was Montreal writer and photographer Matthew Hollett for his poem Tickling the Scar.

If you’re interested in other CBC Literary Prizes, the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January and the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April.

Get to know the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize English-language finalists below.

Mia Anderson is a poet living in Portneuf, Que. (Danielle Giguère)

Mia Anderson has been an actress, organic grower and market gardener, shepherd, priest, poet and translator. Several of these things she still is. She has published six books of poetry. Her work has won the Montreal International Poetry Prize, the National Magazine Award and the Malahat Long Poem Prize twice. She was raised and educated in Toronto but now lives on the francophone shores of the St. Lawrence, near Huron-Wendat land.

The garden. But the poem says that. Food, in the sense that the deeply moral chef José Andrés means it. He said, ‘We can change the world through the power of food.’– Mia Anderson

Why she wrote Onion“The garden. But the poem says that. Food, in the sense that the deeply moral chef José Andrés means it. He said, ‘We can change the world through the power of food.’ The playfulness of the poem’s marital metaphor and the love of small farms — with their desperate current needs. A sad and sorry hope for small agriculture and for humanity.”

Lise Gaston is a writer from Vancouver. (Submitted by Lise Gaston)

Lise Gaston is the author of Cityscapes in Mating Season, which was named as one of the 10 must-read books of 2017 by the League of Canadian Poets. Other work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brick, Canadian Notes and Queries, the Fiddlehead, the Malahat Review and Best Canadian Poetry in English. Gaston lives in Vancouver.

Why she wrote James

“In July 2020, my husband and I found out at a routine ultrasound that our baby would be stillborn. In writing of an experience that was and remains overwhelming, I focus here on the aspect of naming. How do we choose when all the imagined, excitedly discussed names were attached to the expectation of a living child? How do we choose a name when the first person we will tell is the social worker who is giving us a list of funeral homes? We named him quickly, in the midst of grief and shock, in the short hours between his death and his birth.

I focus here on the aspect of naming. How do we choose when all the imagined, excitedly discussed names were attached to the expectation of a living child?– Lise Gaston

“This poem is about that moment, but also what I couldn’t realize until after: that naming has a surprising permanence to it, even while his existence felt so impermanent. It was a choice that has gone beyond the day of his birth and death, when we couldn’t imagine even how our own lives would continue outside of that hospital room. We will carry that name with us; he will always be our family, our firstborn.”

Adriana Oniță is a poet, artist, educator and researcher based in Edmonton. (Submitted by Adriana Oniță)

Adriana Oniță is a Romanian Canadian poet, artist, educator and researcher. She is the editorial director of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the founding editor of the Polyglot, a multilingual magazine of poetry and art. She writes poezii în limba română, English, español, français and italiano. Her recent poems have appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Humber Literary Review and in the Romanian Women Voices in North America series. She is the author of the chapbook Conjugated Light. Currently, she is completing her PhD in language education at the University of Alberta and divides her time between Edmonton and Italy.

Why she wrote Untranslatable: 

“When I moved to Edmonton from Romania in elementary school, I felt so much pressure to assimilate, that within a few years, I almost completely lost my mother tongue. Since then, I’ve felt this desperate dor, or longing, for limba română. Writing these bilingual poems has helped me reclaim my Romanian.

Each word is like a compressed zip file and poetry is incredibly fun because it opens up endless ways to fail and succeed at translating the untranslatable.​​​​​– Adriana Oniță

“When we lose a language, we don’t just lose words, but also their embedded wisdom — ways to marvel, grieve, heal, pray, curse, banter and remember. In this series of poems, I try to translate ‘untranslatable’ Romanian words. Hărnicie offers a different way to look at work. Le depicts the stories sewn into our embroidered blouses. Dor tries to capture that feeling of longing for the mother tongue. Nădejde is about trusting the process, which has helped me relearn my language. Each word is like a compressed zip file and poetry is incredibly fun because it opens up endless ways to fail and succeed at translating the untranslatable.”

Bola Opaleke is a poet from Winnipeg. (Femi Osho)

Bola Opaleke is the author of Skeleton of a Ruined Song, which won the 2020 Thomas Morton Memorial Prize for poetry. A few of his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Prairie Fire, Frontier Poetry, Rattle, the Nottingham Review, the Puritan, Literary Review of Canada, Sierra Nevada Review, the Indianapolis Review and Canadian Literature. He holds a degree in city planning and lives in Winnipeg. He is currently the arts community director with Winnipeg Arts Council’s board of directors.

I wrote this poem to avenge myself against the guilt swallowing me up and against the forgiveness stuck in my throat.– Bola Opaleke

Why he wrote The Morgue in my Tears: “Some wounds never heal, they hide. I started writing this poem a few years ago. Six times I have completed it — or seemed to have — and all six times I ended up tossing it. But during the pandemic, it became, as Jericho Brown said, ‘a gesture toward home’. I wrote this poem to avenge myself against the guilt swallowing me up and against the forgiveness stuck in my throat.”

Alison Watt is a painter and a writer who lives on Protection Island in Nanaimo, B.C. (Submitted by Alison Watt)

Alison Watt is a painter and writer who lives on Protection Island in Nanaimo B.C. Her first book, The Last Island, a Naturalist’s Sojourn on Triangle Island, won the Edna Staebler Award for creative non-fiction. She has published a book of poetry, Circadia, and a novel, Dazzle Patterns, which was shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award.

Why she wrote Addendum —”Flora of a Small Island in the Salish Sea: “As a naturalist, I often turn to field guides. Since I trained as a biologist, over the years I have come to understand that the scientific paradigm has left us estranged from other living things.

These poems are a response. Imagine a field guide with not only a scientific description but also a poetic one.– Alison Watt

“In the effort not to anthropomorphise, the emotional content has been stripped from the natural world. These poems are a response. Imagine a field guide with not only a scientific description but also a poetic one.”

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